MAR 04, 2023 6:00 AM PST

Custom Chip Turns Smartphones into Radio-Frequency Identification Readers

Close-up image of the sand grain-sized chip developed in the study. (Credit: David Baillot/University of California San Diego)

In a recent study presented at the IEEE International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco, a team of researchers at the University of California San Diego have developed a custom sand grain-sized chip capable of turning a smartphone into a radio-frequency identification (RFID) reader, meaning it can identify objects in close proximity and relay information about them.

The breakthrough uses a technology known as backscatter communication, which utilizes smartphone signals to send back signals that it can understand about surrounding objects.

“This approach enables a robust, low-cost and scalable way to provide power and enable communications in an RFID-like manner, while using smartphones as the devices that both read and power the signals,” said Patrick Mercier, who is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of California San Diego, and a co-author on the study. 

PhD students Shih-Jai Kuo (left) and Manideep Dunna (right), conducting lab work at the UC San Diego Center for Wearable Sensors. (Credit: David Baillot/University of California San Diego)

Dr. Dinesh Bharadia, who is a professor in UC San Diego’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and a co-author on the study, said the broader promise of this technology is developing battery-less devices that can be powered via LTE signals, which could lead to less expensive and longer lasting devices, as well, lasting possibly up to several decades.

“E-waste, especially batteries, is one of the biggest problems the planet is facing, after climate change,” said Dr. Bharadia. 

For future research, the team plans to integrate this technology in other projects to test its capabilities, and they also hope to use a startup or industry partner to commercialize it, as well.

Sources: UC San Diego Today

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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