Tagging, Monitoring and Tracking Using Nanotechnology Methods and Devices

Topics Covered

What Are Radio Frequency ID (RFid) Tags and What Are the Benefits of Using Them?

Industry Applications for Radio Frequency ID (RFid) Tags

Benefits and Drawbacks of Using RFid tags in Food Packaging

Nanobarcodes - What Are They Made Of?

Industry Applications for Nanobarcodes

“Senser” Tags Made from Nanoparticles - Industry Applications

Tagging Food Packages Means Food Can Be Monitored from Source to Plate   

What Are Radio Frequency ID (RFid) Tags and What Are the Benefits of Using Them?

An RFid tag is a small, wireless integrated-circuit (IC) chip with a radio circuit and an identification code embedded in it. The advantages of the RFid tag over other scan-able tags - such as the UPC barcodes pasted on most consumer products today - are that the RFid tag is small enough to be embedded in the product itself - not just on its package; it can hold much more information, can be scanned at a distance (and through materials, such as boxes or other packaging) and many tags can be scanned at the same time.

Industry Applications for Radio Frequency ID (RFid) Tags

RFid tags are already being used for livestock tracking, attached to the ear or injected into the animal. The entire chip can be about the size of a dust mite - closer to micro-scale than nanoscale, though incorporating nanoscale components. Developers of the technology envision a world where they can “identify any object anywhere automatically.” 

Benefits and Drawbacks of Using RFid tags in Food Packaging

RFid tags could be used on food packaging to perform relatively straightforward tasks, such as to tally all of a customer’s purchases at once or alerting consumers if products have reached their expiration dates. RFid tags are controversial because they can transmit information even after a product leaves the supermarket. Privacy advocates are concerned that marketers will have even greater access to data on consumer-behavior. They want the tags to be disabled at the cash register (what is known as “tag killing”) to insure that personal data won’t be obtained and stored. Wal-Mart in the US and TESCO in the UK have already tested RFid tagging on some products in some stores.  

Nanobarcodes - What Are They Made Of?

A “nanobarcode” is an alternative tagging or monitoring device that works more like the UPC code, but on the nano-scale. One type of nanobarcode - developed by Nanoplex Technologies - is a nanoparticle consisting of metallic stripes, where variations in the striping provide the method of encoding information. Nanoplex changes the length and width of the particles and the number, width and composition of each stripe to make billions and billions of variations.

Industry Applications for Nanobarcodes

So far they’ve put barcodes into ink, fabric, clothing, paper, explosives and on jewellery. The codes can be read using a handheld optical reader or a microscope that measures the difference in reflectivity of the metallic stripes. Silver and gold reflect light in different ways, for example, and it is the patterns of reflection that give each particle its unique code. In addition to gold and silver, Nanoplex makes codes out of platinum, palladium, nickel and cobalt.

“Senser” Tags Made from Nanoparticles - Industry Applications

Nanoplex also produces “Senser” tags (Silicon Enhanced Nanoparticles for Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering) - 50 nm metal nanoparticles that exhibit unique codes similar to nanobarcodes. Senser tags can also be incorporated into packaging and read by an automated reader up to a metre away, allowing items to be read at a checkout like RFID tags or to be read covertly at ports.

Tagging Food Packages Means Food Can Be Monitored from Source to Plate   

The tagging of food packages will mean that food can be monitored from farm to fork - during processing, while in transit, in restaurants or on supermarket shelves and eventually, even after the consumer buys it. Coupled with nanosensors, those same packages can be monitored for pathogens, temperature changes, leakages, etc.      

Source: ‘Down on the Farm: the Impact of Nano-Scale Technologies on Food and Agriculture’, ETC Group Report, November 2004.

For more information on this source please visit the ETC Group.

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