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Chipless RFID tag set to kill off the barcode


Imagine shopping without waiting in queues. Till now, it has just been a dream. But soon, it’s going to be a reality and legal.

Australian researchers are developing a "smart label" that can replace barcode. The invention can revolutionise shopping experience in retail markets.

Associate Professor Nemai Karmakar from Monash University has developed new generation radio frequency identification (RFID) tags that, until now, have failed to work on metal or water products.

Trial by Coles failed as liquids and metals interfered with the signals. He hopes that superior tags will renew supermarket’s interest in technology.

Coles says that by pacing tagged bread, milk and tinned fruit into trolleys with electronic readers, shoppers can instantly obtain data such as expiry dates, shipping histories and total price.

"Customers will have a fantastic experience. The RFID tags can hold huge amounts of information," he says. "If you have credit card details on your mobile phone, you can pay as you walk out. Technology now makes this possible."

The conventional sort labelled as "barcode on steroids", has long been used in e-passports, library management systems, and e-tag systems on motorways.

Dr Karmakar firmly believes that his chipless RFID tag will eventually replace barcodes.  Chipless RFID tags are cheaper, smaller and faster than other tracking systems, including the read-only barcode.

“It just wouldn't make sense to attach a 10 cent tag to a low cost item, such as Kit Kats or potato chips. It makes sense for a high cost clothing item, because 10 cents is insignificant then. But not on a Kit Kat," says Maria Palazzolo, chief executive of GS1 Australia, a supply chain management non-profit.

Dr Karmakar says that it would cost about a cent to use per item with chipless and printable RFID tag.

An Australian food and Grocery Council spokesperson confirmed that the new system will be implemented only if it doesn’t have any additional costs.

"AFGC can see benefits in RFID technology in improving supply chain efficiencies and delivering improved benefit to the consumer," he says.

Despite the benefits, Australian Privacy Foundation's vice chair David Vaile warns that consumers should be cautious of the data-intense technology.

He says that once the product leaves the store, data-transmitting tags can be problematic.

"There is no justification for it to be live after it leaves the store. Printed barcodes are easy to disable, obviously. But with live tags, there's potential risk of unauthorised use," says David Vaile.

Dr Karmakar dismissed the privacy concerns put forward. He is of the opinion that problems are not connected with technology but with the policy about its usage.

Fashion store Zara will be using RFID technology on 6,300 stores across the world to increase the speed of its supply chain. The technology will be introduced in Australia soon.

"This definitely benefits customers as we can respond quicker if there is a demand for a particular style or size in each store. We will also be able to understand better what the market of each store is after and tailor the collection for them," says Zara Australia's Miren Mendoza.

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