The Butterfly Effect

Omni-ID takes a structural approach to enabling RFID tags for harsh environments.

In an effort to address long-standing problems associated with using UHF RFID tags in harsh environments that contain metals or liquids, RFID technology provider Omni-ID looked at the structure of its tags.
Thomas Pavela, CEO and president of Omni-ID, said company officials scientifically examined the problem and believe they have found the answer in nature.
"We looked at the wing structure of the blue monarch butterfly and how it reflects light," Pavela said in an interview with eWEEK. "We didn't try to imitate it, but looked at the concept and how it could be applied to RF [radio-frequency] technology."
The company launched in February, and its Omni-ID UHF (ultra high frequency) tags have been in public pilots since March.
Pavela said the secret to how the Blue Morpho butterfly's wings affect light is in their design structure. Similarly, Omni-ID UHF tags feature a layered structure that affects incoming radio waves.
"We don't have the antenna of a dipole," he said. "Radio waves are captured, focused and sent back."
Andre Cot??«, vice president of global business development for Omni-ID, gave an example of a retailer performing pallet-level automatic identification with forklift readers to demonstrate how the tags work.
"The tags are used to identify the location in the warehouse where the pallet goes on metal racking," Cot??« said. "Most racking is steel, and the tag goes in the middle and associates pallets to the location as information is automatically uploaded. Our tag generates its own energy, so you can place it on or off metal and get a good read distance."
In contrast, Cot??« said other RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags are either tuned exactly to the metal, in which case they don't work off the metal, or have to be spaced off the metal or decoupled from the electromagnetic energy of the metal. In both of these situations, read distance can be reduced to a foot, where the read distance of an Omni-ID tag can be up to 8 feet, according to Cot??«.
He also said Omni-ID hard-case tags are as little as 3 to 4 millimeters thick, and flex tags are as little as 2 millimeters thick, which are both thinner than a standard RFID tag.
Pavela said that other RFID tag vendors have offered workarounds to the problems caused by harsh environments, but only Omni-ID has directly addressed the issue with technology. In addition, he said Omni-ID tags are not tied to a particular frequency, protocol or chip, and use standard materials, so their costs are not higher than other tags.
Mike Liard, director of RFID and contactless research for ABI Research, said Omni-ID takes an interesting approach to addressing RFID read failures.
"Working on the antenna design increases read accuracy rates and mitigates read failures," Liard said. "This expands the market and opens new markets. It points to the progress of passive UHF tag technology and opens up a host of applications for operations in a harsh environment."

Dan Berthiaume covers the retail space for eWEEK. For more industry news, check out's Retail Site.