Passive Sensor Tags to Surpass 5 Million Units This Year

IDTechEx research finds that passive UHF and NFC sensor tags are dominating the RFID sensor market, while battery-assisted sensor tags are also seeing market growth as a relatively low-cost IoT solution.
By Claire Swedberg

Another common use case is the tracking of moisture in adult diapers used at health-care facilities. In this scenario, caregivers can utilize a handheld reader to capture sensor data from a diaper without physically checking it, thereby saving time for the provider, as well as improving patient comfort.

The system can also be used with fixed readers. For instance, Das cites an application in which the temperatures of critical components within mechanical equipment need to be tracked. Wind farms, for instance, can install a fixed UHF RFID reader within a wind turbine, and attach a passive RFID sensor tag to each turbine blade. The reader can then interrogate the sensor data each time the blade comes within range, and detect any temperatures that might be exceeding safe levels. If a blade becomes too hot, for example, it may become structurally compromised and need to be replaced.

To date, the number of passive UHF sensor tags exceeds the number of NFC tags. Among IC makers for such tags, the study found, 42 percent were UHF-based chips, while 35 percent were NFC-based and the other 23 percent were capable of both NFC and UHF transmissions.

Another version of the passive RFID sensor—one with a biosensor built into it—is gaining traction but is still mostly being used for research and pilots. Das says fewer than 5,000 units were sold this year. The biosensor tag employs a sensor film connected to the IC that will alter the RF transmission when interrogated, provided that specific conditions are met. That contrasts with the standard passive RFID sensor, which uses an IC with onboard sensors or an IC wired to sensors.

The biosensor-based tag can be very low in cost to produce, the company reports, and can be designed to track a variety of conditions far beyond temperature or humidity. For instance, the tag could be built to alter its transmission in the event that the biosensor detects the presence of explosives or specific chemicals. However, the tags require a proprietary reader to interrogate and interpret the tag transmission, which is considerably more expensive than standard UHF readers or NFC-enabled smartphones.

Das predicts that there will be greater growth in both battery-assisted and passive RFID sensors, based on the increasing demand for RFID as a low-cost alternative to Wi-Fi- or Bluetooth-enabled systems, as well as to continued RFID and sensor technology developments. For instance, Das cites wearable RFID sensors and the use of RFID sensors in health-care and cold-chain applications, in which tags are low enough in cost to make their use feasible on an item level.

The release of printed temperature sensors and RFID antennas, Das says, as well as flexible batteries and transistor circuits, will also encourage the proliferation of RFID-based sensor solutions. "There's quite a bit of fragmentation," he adds, when it comes to use cases. "But the numbers are adding up." The company plans to conduct additional surveys to track the growth of battery-assisted and passive RFID sensors in the future. The full report is available for sale at IDTechEx's website.

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