University of Pittsburgh
September 28, 2004

University of Pittsburgh and ADCUS Inc. Announce Partnership to Produce Affordable Custom RFID Tags

Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—Researchers, retailers, and manufacturers all agree that radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are destined to replace bar codes as product identifiers—but not until RFID technology becomes affordable for small- and medium-sized businesses, rather than just big companies. To hasten that process, the University of Pittsburgh and ADCUS Inc. are partnering to produce an RFID tag generation system that will enable smaller companies to affordably customize their own, unique RFID tags.

Currently, most RFID tags are manufactured with a silicon chip containing such information as the price, model number, and serial number for the item to which the tag is affixed. The chip is attached to an antenna that transmits the information to a receiver, and both the chip and antenna are mounted on a plastic or paper tag.

"To design a silicon chip today, you typically need a highly skilled and high-salaried engineer to do both the analog and digital circuitry that's required," said Marlin H. Mickle, Nickolas A. DeCecco Professor in Pitt's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "Once your chip has been designed, you must take it to a chip foundry to have it produced. The foundry usually will require you to order a minimum number of the tags. That volume of tags tends to be very large—too large for smaller companies to afford."

To get around that problem, ADCUS will market a generic RFID chip (developed by a Pitt research team led by Mickle) to small- and medium-sized companies. "Companies would not have to pay to create these generic chips from scratch," Mickle said. "Instead, they would just buy them as ready-made commodities. They could then customize these chips, or pay a programmer to customize them, to meet their own specific needs and those of their customers. For example, an office supply company might insert RFID tags on file folders as a tracking device, or an assembly plant might use RFID technology to track its manufacturing process."

The Pitt-ADCUS RFID tag will minimize power consumption, a factor with implications for energy efficiency as well as cost savings because RFID tags operate on battery power. Mickle estimated that Pitt-ADCUS technology will lower the cost of developing RFID tags by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

By selling affordable custom RFID technology to smaller businesses—a large and heretofore untapped base of customers—ADCUS expects to gain a major share in a growing RFID market that business analysts previously had assumed would be dominated by very large-scale integration (VLSI) design houses and major silicon foundries. ADCUS, the U.S.-based subsidiary of South Korea's ADChips, is a semiconductor design company specializing in the design, implementation, and commercialization of Extendable Instruction Set Computer (EISC), a next-generation microprocessor technology.

In addition to Mickle, Pitt Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering researchers participating in the Pitt-ADCUS project include Assistant Professors Alex Jones and Raymond Hoare, and Professor James T. Cain, who is director of Pitt's John A. Swanson Center for Micro and Nano Systems.