New RFID Sensors are Smaller, Use Less Power to Detect Chemical Threats

Hello Earth!

We have reached a significant milestone with GE’s radio-frequency identification (RFID) sensors! Our GE Global Research team (see Figure 1 below) has developed sensors for detection and quantitation of chemical threats such as explosives and oxidizers and has tested these sensors in collaboration with our partners. The significance of this accomplishment is in accurate quantitation of minute amounts of these chemicals with our individual RFID sensors outside the pristine conditions of GE labs.

We have reached a mid-way point in development and commercialization of these sensors that will complement conventional analytical instruments for detection of chemical threats.  In airports today, chemical threats are often screened using desktop systems — suspicious surfaces are swabbed and separately analyzed, consuming substantial time, space and power. Compared to such desktop detectors, our sensor system is 300 times smaller, weighs 100 times less, and uses 100 times less power. Also, compared to the arrays of multiple sensors needed with desktop detectors, our RFID sensors so sensitive that we achieve accuracy by using only individual sensors.

Of course, the question is – how can a single simple sensor compete with the detection performance of more sophisticated conventional analytical instruments or sensor arrays? Indeed, our sensors look very simple (see Figure 2 below), but there are four key new features that enable their desired performance – a sensing material, a matching transducer, a sensor reader, and data analytics.  Together, these features make our sensors “multivariable sensors” and boost their performance without a change in their appearance. As well put by William Shakespeare, “appearance can be deceiving.”

GE Global Research RFID Sensor Team
Fig. 1: GE Global Research team develops wireless, battery-free RFID sensors for detection of chemical threats. The team from left to right: Davide Simone, Radislav A. Potyrailo, Binil Kandapallil, Zhexiong Tang, and Igor Tokarev

To build our multivariable RFID sensors, we carefully design a sensing material for a particular application scenario and match its response with the right geometry of our RFID sensor antenna.  The multivariable sensor response is measured using a cell phone-sized sensor reader device. The sensor reader is responsible for the accuracy of sensor response and its ability to correct for fluctuations of ambient temperature and other environmental instabilities. A more conventional way to measure responses of RFID sensors is to use near-field communication (NFC) that is available in many modern smartphones. At present, commercially available RFID sensors and NFC phones are successfully applied for quantitation of humidity and temperature (Read more here, here, and here.) NFC sensors will continue to expand their applications in situations where sensor response is not expected to suffer from interferences. Otherwise, NFC sensors cannot provide detection selectivity and require conventional arrays of sensors with their well-known practical challenges. Our individual RFID sensors solve this problem by having all data analytics “smarts” located in the sensor reader, rather than in the sensor.  Apple founder Steve Jobs once said that “software is going to be a major enabler in our society.” In our sensor applications, we see data analytics as the key enabler in achieving sensor performance.

The principles of our data analytics are shared among different types of multivariable sensors that we are developing at GE. Indeed, while our multivariable sensors can be based on RFID or bio-inspired sensing principles, the common themes include collection of response from a simple, cost-effective, and often single-use multivariable sensor and data processing using a non-disposable sensor reader so all the “smarts” reside in the sensor reader.

Our GE teams are developing multivariable sensors to perform measurements with accuracy and reliability in complex environments, confined spaces, and without available external power.

GE’s approach for RFID sensing of explosives and oxidizers.  Conventional RFID tags of different form factors converted into sensors by applying a sensing material on one side of the tag.  A model sensing material is the white coating seen on the RFID sensor tags. (A) The uncoated side of sensors shows their antenna inlays and (B) The coated side of sensors .
Fig. 2: GE’s approach for RFID sensing of explosives and oxidizers. Conventional RFID tags of different form factors converted into sensors by applying a sensing material on one side of the tag. A model sensing material is the white coating seen on the RFID sensor tags. (A) The uncoated side of sensors shows their antenna inlays and (B) The coated side of sensors .

But what if in future it isn’t just sensors that are inexpensive – less than 50 cents each – but also the sensor readers? What if the readers cost less than a cup of coffee?

Stay tuned… Share your thoughts…  This future is here!

Read more about this technology in Wired and GE Reports.


8 Comments

  1. Tariq

    Can I buy a quantity of sensors chemical threat RFID ?

  2. Faisal Hameed

    Sir,
    i am student and doing research in “efficient use of WSN in explosive detection” in GCU Lahore, Pakistan.
    i have a few questions if one can answer, i will be pleased.
    it can be replacement of MSP410 of CrossBow technology?
    a cell phone size reader can read how many sensors data at a time and what is effective distance?
    it can be used with internet of things?

  3. jack shen

    Can the RFID check the freshness of food in the Refrigerator?thks

  4. Kent Everheart

    Is this in production yet and/or commercially available?

  5. Medeck Bruce

    This is a powerful tool to can be very useful in detecting explosives and all that. But can work just on its own or does it have to be connected to other devices to make it functional?

  6. Berdj Joseph Rassam

    This is yet another good technological advance.

  7. IoT.do - Internet of Things

    Outstanding job, amazing what today’s sensors can do! Keep up the good work, as you said, the “magic” is – and will always be – in the software.

  8. Ken Leith

    We like to create RFID’s with roll to roll graphene on a flexible substrate, with a butterfly antennae set to capture THZ frequencies for super sensitive detection. We are scaling now for low cost film continuous roll CVD graphene and MoS2. It would be interesting to work with your RFID design. Probably a combination of 3D printing and lithography on the graphene…. Best wishes for your continued success.