Pill bottles, coffee cups, and countless other nonelectronic objects could be turned into a network of Internet of Things sensors with a new radio frequency identification (RFID)-based technology. The system, called IDAct, bridges the gap between “smart” electronic devices that are currently part of the Internet of Things and the hundreds of billions of everyday non-smart objects.

A pill bottle, for example, could keep track of a person’s medication intake and a water glass could monitor hydration. The technology could also have applications in elder care, where it could be used to unobtrusively monitor medications and daily activities.

Using RFID readers and battery-free RFID tags that cost only a few cents, IDAct can sense the presence and movement of people in a room and detect the movement of objects with enough detail to determine, for example, whether a person has moved a pill bottle or cooked a meal. The tags can be attached to nearly any object in the form of a sticker, and RFID readers can be integrated into everyday objects like light bulbs.

The tags absorb just enough electromagnetic energy from the reader’s signal to broadcast a simple, unique code. In the past, an RFID reader simply picked up this code to identify whether the object was present or not — on or off, signal or no signal. IDAct improves on this by providing a more nuanced reading of the signal from the RFID tags. It can detect minute fluctuations in the signal coming back from tags to detect when an object is moved or whether a person is touching it. It can also detect changes in a room’s electromagnetic field to infer, for example, when a human is present.

These improved signals are then analyzed by a machine learning algorithm run by an onsite computer to infer what’s happening in a room. In the testing phase, this processing was done on a laptop but the necessary hardware eventually will be integrated into the RFID reader itself.

For more information, contact Gabe Cherry at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; 734-763-3305.

Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the April, 2020 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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