RFID comes to wearables thanks to Fujitsu

Fujitsu has just expanded what the next generation of wearables will be capable of, by producing a new, compact RFID tag that works on surfaces previously unheard of. At 30mm long, 25mm wide and just 0.5mm thick, it can be attached to metal, plastic and any number of other surfaces.

Being of a much smaller form factor than traditional RFID tags, Fujitsu claims that this version will be perfect for wearables, giving them more options for inter-connectivity. Certain uses could include giving people access to buildings or certain departments, helping speed along the security check.

“Existing smartcards generally have a communication range of under approximately 10 cm so they do not allow for communication over longer distances,” said Manabu Kai, current research manager at Fujitsu’s Advanced Wireless Technologies lab. “The new tag enables a much longer range of communication.”

Fujitsu previously developed flexible RFID tags for clothing

Fujitsu previously developed flexible RFID tags for clothing

Communications range could be boosted even further, if it were to increase the size of the tag. While that might work for certain products, for wearables, the current compact size is the big selling point.

What allows this new form of RFID tag to be such a small form factor, is that it doesn’t reguire the usual gap between tag and product to allow the signal to propagate. Instead, it uses a coiled antenna inside the tag itself, even going so far as to use the metallic properties of what it’s attached to to amplify the signal.

“With this new technology we have announced, the metal of the object around where the tag is placed effectively becomes an extension of the antenna,” Kai said.

A metal surface isn’t a requirement of the technology, but it does help. Plastic will also be viable, though it won’t have the same signal boosting properties of its metallic cousins.

Unfortunately, even developers won’t get their hands on this technology for some time. Fujitsu has pencilled in a commercial use of the tags sometime before March 2016, which suggests that late next year is the earliest we might get to see products with the new RFID technology in place.

Still, when that does roll around I’ll be interested to see what some manufacturers can do with it. What’s the bet that the next generation of Apple Smartwatches will bundle it in?