Engineering Minute

Engineering Minute – Turning Every Object Into A Smart Object Using RFID

A new system, involving RFID tags, developed by a team of engineers at the University of Michigan could allow everyday objects to be smart objects. The system, dubbed IDAct, is a bridge between the tens of billions of current smart electronics on the market and everyday objects. The team hopes the technology could improve elder care, allowing the elderly to live independently for longer. 


RFID readers mounted to the ceiling gather data from IDAct stickers in the room.
RFID readers mounted to the ceiling gather data from IDAct stickers in the room. Credit: University of Michigan

“Every object causes electromagnetic interference in a specific way,” says Alanson Sample, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at University of Michigan. “We can use that information, along with information from RFID tags, to get a very detailed picture of what’s going on in a given space.”


From the University of Michigan article: "RFID tags have been used for years to track objects in applications like shipping and theft prevention. The tags absorb just enough electromagnetic energy from the reader’s signal to broadcast a simple, unique code. In the past, the 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 Sample envisions that the necessary hardware eventually will be integrated into the RFID reader itself."


Read more about turning every object into a smart object using RFID, at the University of Michigan.