Paperless RFID Tags Are Carbon-Based

RFID tags are great little pieces of technology, but unfortunately, the combination of paper, metal, and silicon means they are as bad as some modern pregnancy tests — single-use electronic devices that can’t be recycled.

Some prototypes of the RFID tags.

A team of design program graduates from London’s Royal College of Art aim to change that. They’ve devised a mostly-paper RFID tag that’s as safe to recycle as a piece of paper with a pencil doodle on it.

The team’s startup, PulpaTronics have created a design that uses paper as its only material. The circuitry is marked on the paper with a laser set to low power, which doesn’t burn or cut the paper, but instead changes to composition to be conductive.

PulpaTronics were also able to create a chip-less RFID tag much the same way, using a pattern of concentric circles to convey information. The company estimates that these tags will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70%, when compared with traditional RFID tags. They’ll also cost about half as much.

RFID is used in many industries, but it’s also great for hacking. Here’s an 8-track player that harnesses the power of RFID tags to play songs off of an SD card.

Thanks for the tip, []!

16 thoughts on “Paperless RFID Tags Are Carbon-Based

  1. Err… the headline doesn’t seem to match the content… the article says “ a design that uses paper as its only material” – which is great news for disposable ones.

    Did you mean plasticless?

  2. “A pattern of concentric circles to convey information” like the ones shown could be good enough for anti-theft systems. But storing a full 14-digit GS-1 GTIN for POS purposes is somewhat more demanding, you’d need 50 or more resonators at different frequencies for that – and a much larger bandwith than currently allocated for RFID.

    1. A GTIN can be expressed in 47 bits. But in retail GTIN-14 is rarely used outside of distribution centers since they are case-level identifiers. Checkout (POS) scanners use GTIN-13 (formerly known as EAN). which fits in 44 bits.

      1. That’s correct, but you also need some bits for error detection and correction, the check digit alone wouldn’t be sufficient for this crude method.
        Also I expect that at the retail level GTIN-13/12/8 will be replaced by GTIN-14 within a decade to avoid running out of numbers. GS-1 changed the GTIN reuse policy some years ago, now it’s practically no reuse and no multiple use. (blame international mail order for that.)

        1. The biggest problem with extending GTIN-14 to the checkout is that the only reserved leading digits are 9 for variable weight products (e.g. that tray of chicken legs you bought at the grocery store) which are for in-store use only, and 0 for extending a GTIN-13 to a GTIN-14. Right now, the remaining 8 digits are open use, leading to potential conflicts in the supply chain.

    2. Yes, it is such a shame that a proof of concept prototype can never ever EVER be improved upon. Oh well, at least they can throw their worthless crap in the recycling bin instead of the trash this time.

  3. So having a “degradable” device that requires energy(and resource) input to “recycle” it, as opposed to a robust device that can be reused whole without further energy input is an “improvement”?

      1. The environmental impact of RFID stickers is negligible compared to the energy shops use for air-conditioning and the fuel customers burn in their cars for getting there. It’s a solution for investors, not so much for the environment. This might also explain why a Google search turns up tons of marketing blurb for Pulpatronics but no writeup with hard technical facts.

        1. There never was so much paper used since we use computer to replace them…

          For buying anything, one needs a car to go to wherever it is sold.
          How could that be improved?

          Online shopping shifts the problem to delivery rather than fully addressing it. Not shopping things? I like that (i.e. reusing, keeping goods until they break rather than getting bored). Not everyone’s solution and not for everything.

          Adding some room to put groceries/shopping bags on transports (bus, metro…) could help with reducing the fuel needed.

          Focusing on power efficiency rather than perfect condition for AC could be great thing to work on: central decision (at the franchise level) would convert a lot of supermarket: instead of renewing a costly (in energy -> money) system when units die, swap them for something more passive, alas 2% less efficient.

  4. >The circuitry is marked on the paper with a laser set to low power, which doesn’t burn or cut the paper, but instead changes to composition to be conductive.

    You mean it burns the paper. If you prefer it “chars the surface of the paper.” But that is basically just a surface burn.

    1. Isn’t that clever, though? Why write with conductive ink, deposit graphite, or extrude copper-bearing plastic, when you can just MAKE a conductor by charring the paper.

      I wonder what kind of resolution is achievable with this method, if it needs to be done without oxygen, etc. Does paper have granules, or is it uniform? Is carbonization happening exactly in the laser spot or does it creep and have ireegular edges? We need more details here!

      1. It should be pretty high resolution. Paper is made up of fibres which form a random mesh structure. Various things can be done to make the surface smooth, but it is still made up of fibres. If it was granules it would just crumble. Assuming they don’t right the carbonization should happen only where the laser hits

  5. As was pointed out upthread, this may not be suitable as a replacement for commercial RFID tags using the current standards. This doesn’t mean that they have no uses. Tracking a resonant RF tag in 3D space is already something we can do. Reducing the tag cost down to the fraction of a penny that was originally cited as the price point for mass adoption of RFID tags would be something impressive.

    If the resonator printing can be done by other methods, such as branding or roll-to-roll printing with a conductive carbon ink, I could see this opening up a whole field of interesting options for the collectible card game field.

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