Low Mass Antenna Boosts RFID Device Performance

Low Mass Antenna Boosts RFID Device Performance (MSC-TOPS-117)
Antenna employs dual resonance modes to facilitate more accurate tag location
Innovators at NASA Johnson Space Center have developed a quarter-wavelength RFID dual mode antenna that provides polarization diversity and employs dual resonances, but in a form factor that is much smaller than other RFID antennas that provide similar functionality. Typically, antennas designed to provide this performance are on the order of half-wavelength structure which means a larger form factor. Development of this antenna was motivated by the Hyper-Distributed RFID Antenna (HYDRA) system. The HYDRA design seeks a “barely visible” implementation, with a coaxial cable connecting a number of RFID antennas that are not much bigger than the coaxial cable itself. This reduced size should be useful in enclosed vehicles, office spaces, laboratories, etc. Although this RFID dual mode antenna was originally developed for the HYDRA system, this antenna has other applications. For example, small antennas with polarization diversity in handheld RFID readers have long been a challenge. The industry standard is a ceramic half-wavelength puck that is somewhat heavy and leads to ergonomic problems with handheld RFID readers. This innovation could provide a substantial improvement in handheld readers, and similarly with drone-based readers, for applications in which mass is almost always a primary factor.

The Technology
NASA’s HYDRA system enables a new approach in routing the RFID signal, greatly increasing extensibility and the number of antennas that can be served by a single reader. However, increasing the number of antennas in any environment is often undesirable unless the antenna size is inconspicuous. Basing this RFID dual mode antenna on a quarter-wavelength structure allows it to be smaller than an antenna designed for half-wavelength structure, reducing overall mass. NASA’s RFID dual mode antenna is enabled by utilizing two different types of resonance modes – a “slot” mode and a microstrip “patch” mode. An innovative feed architecture allows for coupling from the RFID reader into both modes, with the impedance of each mode approximately equal at respective resonant frequencies. The antenna is designed such that each mode resonates at a different portion of the operating bandwidth, and further with each mode radiating an orthogonal polarization to the other. Frequency-hopping RFID protocols, used in conjunction with this antenna, result in the polarization diversity required for readers to reliably communicate with arbitrarily oriented RFID tags. Numerous commercial applications exist for this RFID dual mode antenna. Examples may include usage in a multiple antenna architecture that is connected to a single reader in an open-air region, in a small, enclosed region such as a cabinet drawer, or through a combination of open and closed regions. This RFID dual mode antenna has a technology readiness level (TRL) 7 (system prototype demonstrated in an operational environment) and is now available for patent licensing. Please note that NASA does not manufacture products itself for commercial sale.
Shown: NASA's quarter-wavelength crossed-slot antenna offers a form factor that is much smaller than other half-wavelength RFID antennas that provide similar functionality.
  • Improves functionality over conventional RFID antennas by extending the range of RFID readers and improving the reader’s accuracy in pinpointing location.
  • Plug-and-play installation allows direct drop-in replacement for existing antennas in many RFID systems.
  • Small form factor requires minimal space for implementation including the number of cables and connections.
  • Saves weight over half-wavelength antennas, making it Ideal for handheld and drone-based readers.

  • Agriculture: tracking produce health and transport
  • Enclosed vehicles and vessels: tracking hardware, devices, consumables and occupants
  • Manufacturing: tracking workforce, equipment, supplies, merchandise, and shipments
  • Medical: tracking supplies, devices, workforce, and patients
  • Retail: tracking merchandise inventory and shipments
Technology Details

Similar Results
RFID systems are used in a wide variety of industries for identification and tracking of inventory and physical assets.
Hyper-Distributed RFID Antenna (HYDRA) System
Components of the HYDRA system include an RFID reader (aka an RFID transceiver or interrogator), RF cables, antennas, and one or more Intelligent Multiplexer Modules (IMMs). The IMM is the core building block of the HYDRA system. In one of its basic embodiments, the IMM comprises an RF directional coupler, RF switch, RFID chip, micro-controller, and power generation and management hardware. In this basic implementation, a single RF port from the RFID reader is attached to the IMM and transfers power thereto. Internally within the IMM, the RF directional coupler diverts a small amount of RF power to rectification and power management circuitry for conversion to DC power that drives the RFID chip, microcontroller, and RF switch. The RFID chip enables communication with the RFID reader and allows the reader to administer changes to the microcontroller‘s embedded software. The microcontroller controls the RF switch, which passes power along to one or more output channels. Connections to the output channels can include antennas, additional IMMs, or other sensors. The HYDRA system may include numerous alternate embodiments to enhance and customize the basic functionality. In one embodiment, the microcontroller is replaced with a simple timer. In another embodiment, the switch has multiple output ports to connect to a distributed chain of HYDRA system or local antennas. Also, the entirety of RF power exiting a HYDRA module can be rectified and used to power a local sensor node, which could be implemented via WiFi or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Features of the HYDRA system include the ability to cover both open regions and enclosures, the ability to switch RF power to an unused load for assisting in the resolution of tag antenna ambiguities, and the ability to accept plug-and-play add-ons such that the reader’s software can use the system without requiring any embedded modifications. The HYDRA system is technology readiness level (TRL) 7 (system prototype demonstrated in an operational environment) and is now available for patent licensing. Please note that NASA does not manufacture products itself for commercial sale.
Warehouse with different items
Agile RFID Antenna System
Current RFID readers, such as the EPC Global Class 1 Gen 2, are limited by narrow bandwidth restrictions, maximum transmit power, and a limited number of RF ports, which results in relatively coarse ranging resolution and accuracy, limited techniques for localization, and limited antenna functionality. Some of the currently available solutions, such as using larger antennas or adding switched multiplexers, often result in unacceptable cost, volume, aesthetics and mass penalties. The Agile RFID Antenna System integrates a frequency multiplexer into the RFID reader antenna system to provide greater antenna functionality without requiring additional reader RF ports, resulting in improvements in reader-tag communications read accuracy, read range, and localization. The Agile RFID Antenna System is at a TRL 8 (Technology has been proven to work in its final form and under expected conditions) and has been used on the International Space Station to support logistics management and it is now available for your company to license and develop into a commercial product. Please note that NASA does not manufacture products itself for commercial sale.
Figure 1.  Antenna Design.
Multi-and Wide-Band Single-Feed Patch Antenna
NASA's patch antenna technology exhibits higher operational bandwidth (on the order of 20%) than typical patch antennas (less than 10%) and can operate across integer-multiple frequency bands (e.g. S/X, C/X, S/C). Testing of the antenna design has demonstrated &#62 6dB of gain on both S and X bands (boresight), with an axial ratio of &#60 6dB and voltage standing wave ratio (VSWR) &#60 3:1 throughout the entire near-Earth network (NEN) operating bands (22.4GHz and 88.4GHz) with hemispherical coverage. The patch size is on the order of 10 x 10 cm and with associated electronics, is about 1 cm in height.
Beamforming RFID Retroreflector technology being demonstrated.
RFID Tag for Long Range and Wide Coverage Capabilities
The RFID Tag with Long Range and Wide Coverage Capabilities technology allows a RFID tag to direct a RFID reader beam signal back in the direction of arrival. This technology requires no added power to provide telemetry for long range readers by using multiple beams instead of one narrow beam signal. Each of the predetermined number of beams is typically associated with a unique identification number to derive bearing information. This innovation is suited for IC-based RFID tags as well as Surface Acoustics Wave (SAW) tags, which are useful for extreme environments. The technology improves the ability to obtain telemetry (quantity, location, or sensor information) without GPS over a distant range. When the tag reports its identification, it also provides angular information to the source, which makes this technology useful for navigation and mapping applications. Because the technology provides an estimated angle between the signal antenna and the surface of each tag, the technology is able to triangulate the position of a mobile item identified with a RFID tag. The same innovation can be integrated to a RFID reader in order to enhance its range and distribute power to passive tags. The innovation has commercial applications in construction, oil and gas, seaport/harbor management, Internet of Things (IoT) and many more industries.
RFID Range Extension and Priority Data Forwarding
This novel technology builds upon a previously (NASA-developed) store-and-forward overlay architecture using COTS RFID protocols for BAP devices. It enables the range-extension and priority forwarding of critical sensor-collected data, even when an RFID interrogator is not in range. With this method, an RFID sensor maintains data queues of varying priority, maintaining at least one high priority queue. When high priority data is collected, the RFID sensor activates a BAP mode that enhances the effective range of the RFID link to the interrogator. After high priority queues are cleared, BAP mode is deactivated to preserve onboard battery life and passive RFID operations resume for proximity-based data delivery. This technology may deliver the most value in applications where long battery lifetime and remote sensing/data collection are essential and when regularly scheduled data transfer may not be available or possible if the target is out of the normal coverage area. The RFID sensor tags described here can operate in a low to no power mode and collect data until a trigger or threshold value is measured. At this time, the critical data can be transmitted from outside passive RFID coverage areas to the nearest interrogator. Although this technology was developed to enhance the effective range of CO2 sensors worn by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, it could find additional applications in food, pharmaceutical, and other industries whose perishable and/or fragile goods rely on a stable climate throughout the transport and storage lifecycle.
Stay up to date, follow NASA's Technology Transfer Program on:
facebook twitter linkedin youtube
Facebook Logo Twitter Logo Linkedin Logo Youtube Logo