Long-Range RFID With Feedback

Not long ago, we published an article about researchers adding sensor data to passive RFID tags, and a comment from a reader turned our heads to a consumer/maker version which anyone can start using right away (PDF). If you’re catching up, passive RFID technology is behind the key fobs and stickers which don’t need power, just proximity to the reader’s antenna. This is a much “hackier” version that works with discrete signals instead of analog ones. It will not however require writing a new library and programming new tags from the ground up just for the user to get started, so there is that trade-off. Sparkfun offers a UHF reader which can simultaneously monitor 25 of the UHF tags shown in this paper.

To construct one of these enhanced tags, the antenna trace is broken and then routed through a switching device such as a glass-break sensor, temperature limit switch, doorbell, or light sensor. Whenever continuity is restored the tag will happily send back its pre-programmed data, and the reader will acknowledge that somewhere one of the tags is seeing some activity. Nothing says this could not be applied to inexpensive RFID readers should you just want a temperature warning for your gecko terrarium or light sensor to your greenhouse‘s sealed controller.

Thank you, [Mike Massen], for your tip on RFID Doing More Than ID.

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RFID Doing More than ID

RFID is a workhorse in industrial, commercial, and consumer markets. Passive tags, like work badges and key fobs, need a base station but not the tags. Sensors are a big market and putting sensors in places that are hard to reach, hostile, or mobile is a costly proposition. That price could drop, and the sensors could be more approachable with help from MIT’s Auto-ID Lab who are experimenting with sensor feedback to RFID devices.

Let’s pretend you want to measure the temperature inside a vat of pressurized acid. You’d rather not drill a hole in it to insert a thermometer, but a temperature sensor sealed in Pyrex that wirelessly transmits the data and never runs out of power is a permanent and cheap solution. The researchers have their sights set on glucose sensing and that news come shortly after Alphabet gave up their RFID quest to measure glucose through contact lenses. Shown the top of this article is a prototype for a Battery Assisted Passive (BAP) RFID sensor that uses commodity glucose testing strips, sending data when the electrochemical reaction occurs. It uses six of these cells in parallel to achieve a high enough peak current to trigger the transmission. But the paper (10.1109/RFID.2018.8376201 behind paywall) mentions a few strategies to improve upon this. However, it does prove the concept that the current spike from the test strips determines the time the tag is active and that can be correlated to the blood glucose detected.

How many of our own projects would instantly upgrade with the addition of a few sensors that were previously unobtainable on a hacker budget? Would beer be brewed more effectively with more monitoring? How many wearables would be feasible with battery-free attachments? The sky is the figurative limit.

Thank you, [QES] for the tip [via TechXplore]

Sniffing RFID Readers With A Piece of Paper

We feature plenty of printed projects here on Hackaday, though they tend to be of the three dimensional type thanks to the proliferation of affordable 3D printers. But in this case, [Milosch Meriac] has managed to put together a printable design that’s not only a very cool hack, but is made up of a scant two dimensions. His creation, which could perhaps be considered something of an interactive circuit diagram, allows anyone with a paper printer and a few passive components to make a functional low-frequency RFID sniffer.

[Milosch] tells us the goal of the project is to lower the barrier for experimenting with the RFID technology that’s increasingly part of our everyday lives. Rather than having to use something expensive and complicated such as an oscilloscope, experimenters can simply plug their DIY RFID sniffer into their computer’s line-in jack and explore the produced waveform with open source tools.

To create a paper RFID sniffer, you start by printing the image out on a thick piece of paper, like card stock. You then apply foil tape where indicated to serve as traces in this makeshift PCB, and start soldering on the components as described in the text. [Milosch] says the assembly procedure is so simple even a kid can do it, and the total cost of each assembled sniffer is literally pennies; making this an excellent project for schools or really any large group.

If you want to play it safe the sniffer can be connected to a USB sound card rather than your machine’s primary sound hardware, and still come in dirt cheap. [Milosch] stops short of explaining the software side of things in this particular project, but any tool which can use input from the sound card as a makeshift oscilloscope should be a good start.

In the past we’ve seen [Milosch] perform low frequency RFID sniffing through the sound card with the powerful baudline tool, but if you want a little more capable hardware, we can point you in the right direction.

Held Captive by Arduino and Multiple RFID Readers

If you’re the kind of person who has friends, and/or leaves the confines of the basement from time to time, we hear that these “Escape Rooms” are all the rage. Basically you get locked into a room with a couple other people and have to solve various problems and puzzles until you’ve finally made enough progress that they let you out. Which actually sounds a lot like the working conditions here at Hackaday HQ, except they occasionally slip some pizza rolls under the door for us which is nice.

Whichever side you find yourself on in one of these lighthearted hostage situations, knowledge of this multi-tag RFID lock created by [Annaane] may come in handy. By connecting multiple MFRC522 RFID readers to an Arduino Uno, she’s come up with a method of triggering a device (like an electronic door lock) only when the appropriate combination of RFID tags have been arranged. With a little imagination, this allows for some very complex puzzle scenarios which are sure to keep your prisoners enthralled until you can lower the lotion down to them.

Her code allows you to configure the type and number of RFID cards required to trigger one of the Arduino’s digital pins, which usually would be connected to a relay to fire off whatever device you want. The Arduino sketch is also setup to give “hints” to the player by way of a status LED: fast blinking let’s you know the tag scanned is wrong, and slow blinking means you don’t have enough scanned in yet.

The video after the break shows some highlights of the build, as well as a quick demonstration of how both the RFID “combination” and manual override can be used to trigger the attached relay.

Hackers do love RFID. Using them for physical access control is a fairly common project around these parts, and we’ve even seen similar setups for the digital realm.

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Long-Range RFID Leaflets

Pick a card, any card. [Andrew Quitmeyer] and [Madeline Schwartzman] make sure that any card you pick will match their NYC art installation. “Replantment” is an interactive art installation which invites guests to view full-size leaf molds casts from around the world.

A receipt file with leaf images is kept out of range in this art installation. When a viewer selects one, and carries it to the viewing area, an RFID reader tells an Arduino which tag has been detected. Solid-state relays control two recycled clothing conveyors draped with clear curtains. The simple units used to be back-and-forth control but through dead-reckoning, they can present any leaf mold cast front-and-center.

Clothing conveyors from the last century weren’t this smart before, and it begs the question about inventory automation in small businesses or businesses with limited space.

We haven’t seen much long-range RFID, probably because of cost. Ordinary tags have been read at a distance with this portable reader though, and NFC has been transmitted across a room, sort of.

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ATtiny Chip Abused in RFID Application

One of Atmel’s smallest microcontrollers, the ATtiny, is among the most inexpensive and reliable chips around for small applications. It’s also one of the most popular. If you don’t need more than a few inputs or outputs, there’s nothing better. As a show of its ability to thrive under adverse conditions, [Trammell Hudson] was able to shoehorn an ATtiny into an RFID circuit in a way that tests the limits of the chip design.

The RFID circuit only uses two of the ATtiny’s pins and neither of which is the ground or power pin. The ATtiny is equipped with protective diodes on its input pins, and if you apply an AC waveform to the input pins, the chip is able to use the leakage current to power itself. Once that little hurdle is crossed, the ATtiny can do the rest of its job handling the RFID circuitry.

This project takes a deep dive into the internals of the ATtiny. If you’ve ever wondered what was going on inside of everyone’s favorite tiny microcontroller, or if you’re looking for an RFID circuit that keeps parts counts to an absolute minimum, this is the project for you.  The ATtiny is more than just a rugged, well-designed chip, though. It’s capable of a lot more than such a small chip should be able to.

Thanks to [adnidor] for the tip!