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. NASA’s Johnson Space Center has developed a Passive Smart Container to monitor and track items that are too small to tag individually.

RFID circuits are used to identify the fill level in a container.

The system uses RFID circuits to identify the fill level in a container and could be easily converted for use in industries such as individual healthcare 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 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.

The Passive Smart Container system comprises four major components: RFID circuits embedded in or around the container, an antenna, 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.

NASA is actively seeking licensees to commercialize this technology. Please contact the JSC Licensing Manager at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 281-483-3809 to initiate licensing discussions. Follow this link here for more information.