Air Ducts Supercharge RFID Signals

HVAC ducts triple the range of wireless tags, opening new doors for monitoring buildings and houses.

Wired thermostats that control the cooling and heating of a house or building might look antiquated real soon as a result of a technology thats been around for decades: radio frequency identification tags.

Researchers have found that the range of passive RFID tags can be tripled in distance when the tags antennas are wired to a buildings heating, venting and air-conditioning ducts.

The tags, which act essentially as wireless sensors, are normally able to be read through open air at a range of 5 to 10 meters by reflecting a signal broadcast by an RFID reader. But according to a new study, using HVAC ducts made from hollow metal pipes, readers worked well at a range of 30 meters, and can function reliably from even further away.

The research was conducted by a team from Carnegie Melon University, Johns Hopkins University, Intermec Technologies and North Carolina State and published in the September issue of Proceedings of the IEEE.

The discovery has the potential to dynamically change the way building sensors function. Today, the sensor systems are wired to monitor climate control, structural integrity and health and safety parameters. But wireless RFID tags could just as easily perform those functions, says Dan Stancil, head of North Carolina States Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and co-author of the study.

This would work with anything you can create an electronic sensor for, says Stancil. "[Those possibilities could include] RFID tag smoke detectors, carbon-monoxide monitors or sensors that can detect chemical, biological or radiological agents.

Another key factor is cost. RFID tags, which have shrunk to half the size of a grain of sand, are far more cost-effective and wouldnt require the expense of wired infrastructure.

Because you can tap into existing infrastructure, I think this technology is immediately economically viable, Stancil adds. Avoiding the labor involved with installing traditional sensors and the related wiring would likely more than compensate for the cost of the RFID tags and readers.

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