Passive Smart Container

Passive Smart Container (MSC-TOPS-36)
RFID technology to quantify and track liquids and bulk goods
NASA's Johnson Space Center has developed a Passive Smart Container to monitor and track items that are too small to tag individually. Although Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is being used widely for pallet and box level tracking in the commercial sector, significant technology gaps remain for tracking dense quantities at the item level. This system uses RFID circuits to identify the fill level in a container and could be easily converted for use in industries such as individual health care management, pharmaceutical manufacturing and distribution inventory tracking, and retail and supply chain inventory management. Use of this technology enables the manufacturer, distributor supplier or user to easily manage and control an inventory of small items that are difficult to tag such as bulk grain foods, liquids, pills, mechanical parts (nuts, bolts, and washers) and small electronic components. This NASA Technology is available for your company to license and develop into a commercial product. NASA does not manufacture products for commercial sale.

The Technology
Passive Smart Container system comprises four major components: RFID circuits embedded in or around the container, an antenna and RF distribution system, and an interrogator/reader. The system uses passive RFID circuits placed on a bulk item container to track consumption and quantify items as the items are removed, added or replaced in the container. The antenna is strategically integrated with the lid or elsewhere in or around the container and is constantly coupling RFID signals to/from the RFID circuits. The circuits reply with information regarding the fill level in the container. A processor connected to the reader/interrogator can infer the fill level according to which RFID circuits respond and the magnitude and phase of the returned signals. The technology is compatible with the EPCglobal Class-1 Generation-2 RFID standard. This setup can be modified to track all kinds of items, large and small, making this technology suitable and applicable to an array of commercial fields. RFID is a disruptive technology that has made a large impact on several industries, especially in supply chain and asset management. Passive Smart Container is well positioned to tap into this growing market. Its ability to account for discrete items as well as liquids and bulk goods that were deemed impossible or impractical to tag makes this technology relevant for an array of applications and industries.
This is one example of a passive smart container prototype showing the capacity level fill for small pill packets as seen through the graphical user interface that has registered the information from the RFID rings embedded in the back of the prototype and an internal spring-loaded traveler with an integrated antenna.
  • Improved inventory management and control: Identify, track and quantify small items
  • Adaptable: Can be used to communicate with inventory management software
  • Cost effective: Leverages common RFID integrated circuits for reuse
  • Widely applicable: Used to track any type of item that is challenging to tag

  • Pharmaceuticals: Applicable to items difficult to tag such as drugs and tablets
  • Health care: Useful in monitoring medication and other health care-related items
  • Consumable supply management: Track consumable items in a variety of industries
Technology Details

MSC-24919-1 MSC-25604-1 MSC-24919-2 MSC-25644-1 MSC-25644-2
Similar Results
Person taking inventory
Smart Enclosure using RFID for Inventory Tracking
The smart enclosure innovation employs traditional RFID cavities, resonators, and filters to provide standing electromagnetic waves within the enclosed volume in order to provide a pervasive field distribution of energy. A high level of read accuracy is achieved by using the contained electromagnetic field levels within the smart enclosure. With this method, more item level tags are successfully identified compared to approaches in which the items are radiated by an incident plane wave. The use of contained electromagnetic fields reduces the cost of the tag antenna; making it cost-effective to tag smaller items. RFID-enabled conductive enclosures have been previously developed, but did not employ specific cavity-design techniques to optimize performance within the enclosure. Also, specific cavity feed approaches provide much better distribution of fields for higher read accuracy. This technology does not restrict the enclosure surface to rectangular or cylindrical shapes; other enclosure forms can also be used. For example, the technology has been demonstrated in textiles such as duffle bags and backpacks. Potential commercial applications include inventory tracking for containers such as waste receptacles, storage containers, and conveyor belts used in grocery checkout stations.
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.
Wearable RFID Sensor Tags Yield Extended Operational Times
This technology exploits the inherently passive nature of RFID to approximate the services provided by traditional active Internet of Things (IOT) protocols like ZigBee and Bluetooth. A novel store-and-forward overlay on COTS RFID protocols allows an RFID active tags to transit through an ecosystem of RFID interrogators, exploiting contact opportunities as they arise and quietly transfers sensor readings at nearly no power cost to the RFID active tag. Specific intelligence built into both the interrogator and the tag leverages the RFID tag user memory (UM) as a stand-in IOT interface. The tag operates by sampling data into timestamped packets and loads them into tag memory. When an interrogator in the ecosystem realizes that a tag is in view and that there is unrecovered data on the tag, it takes custody of the sensor data packet and offloads the data into a database. A smart scheduler reads from the population of interrogators and schedules data transfers for specific tags when an interrogator can seed the custody transfer process for the data packets. NASA has produced working prototypes of wearables, worn by the crew aboard the International Space Station, that reports humidity, temperature and CO2 readings. In one estimate, the battery life is on pace to last an estimated nine years. The Low-Power RFID to Collect and Store Data From Many Moving Wearable Sensors is a technology readiness level (TRL) 6 (system/subsystem prototype demonstration in a relevant environment). The innovation 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.
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.
RFID-Based Rotary Position Sensor
The RFID-Based Rotary Position Sensor was designed for use in a hand-crank dispenser with a circular disc inside the dispenser box containing a plurality of RFID integrated circuits (ICs) around the disc's periphery. An antenna is coupled to the crank on the outside of the box, which allows a user to turn the disc and dispense items. An RFID interrogator, coupled to a processor, determines the orientation of the crank based on the RFID ICs, providing information about the rotation angle of the internal disc which can then be used to assess level of material remaining in the dispenser. This sensor can be useful for items that are too small to tag individually (e.g., pharmaceutical pills), but there are various potential applications for the sensor system including use in limit switches, position sensors, and orientation sensors. The configuration of the RFID ICs and antenna can be tailored for specific applications. For example, the system could be used in a rack-and-pinion gear system to measure the rotational or angular displacement that arises from a linear force. Furthermore, the system could be incorporated into a rotary controller to refine the rotation angle of a rotating system, like a steering systemor rotor, for example. NASA's RFID-Based Rotary Position Sensor is at a TRL 6 (system/subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment) when used in its original application as part of a hand-crank dispenser system. For additional applications that have not been explored by NASA, the invention is at a TRL 4 (component and/or breadboard validation in a laboratory environment).
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