Technology Developments-Back on the Fast Track

The summer doldrums of technology have vanished in the snowstorm created by many small but significant developments: RFID is booming, optics of all kinds is growing, and terahertz (THz) technology is going commercial. On top of that, the rest of the sensor market is stirring with newfound improvements in many areas.

Radio Frequency Identification

This past month, HP kicked off all kinds of speculation with its announced miniature wireless data chip, which can provide broad access to digital content in the physical world. It leaps past previous RFID-device capabilities with an astounding increase in, and combination of, size, memory, capacity, and data access speed. The experimental chip, developed by the Memory Spot research team at HP Labs, is a memory device based on CMOS (a widely used, low-power integrated circuit design), about the size of a grain of rice or smaller (2 mm to 4 mm square), with a built-in antenna. The chips could be embedded in a sheet of paper or stuck to any surface, and could eventually be available in a booklet of self-adhesive dots.

This came on the heels of an announcement that Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey has initiated a two-year clinical study to test the use of human-implantable RFID tags. The trial will use the tags, readers, and database that make up VeriChip’s VeriMed system. VeriMed is designed to ensure that healthcare workers have access to vital data, such as preexisting conditions or drug allergies, even if patients are unable to relay such information themselves.

Meanwhile, SkyeTek Inc., a provider of RFID reader technology, introduced the M9 SkyeModule UHF RFID reader ($199 per module). The M9 is reported to be the world's smallest, least expensive EPC Class 1 Gen 1/2 and ISO 18000-6B/C OEM reader that meets regulatory requirements for the world's major markets, including North America, Europe (ETSI 302 208), Korea, and Japan. Approximately half the size of a business card, the M9 was designed for embedded UHF applications, such as item-level inventory management, handheld reading/encoding, and printing.

On September 6–7 in Vienna, VA (just outside Washington, DC), hundreds of professionals are expected to converge at the 2006 Antenna Systems/Short-Range Wireless Conference to learn from and meet with the top experts involved in organizations incorporating UWB, ZigBee, DSRC, RFID, WiFi, IR, and Bluetooth technologies in their products.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. About eight separate RFID conferences and expos are planned between now and year’s end, according to the meetings calendar at RFID Journal online.


Spectral Dimensions’ NIR-CI 2450 from the U.K. offers the only suite of comprehensive near infrared (NIR) chemical imaging solutions that provide complete product continuity from the laboratory to the process environment. Chemical imaging systems provide simultaneous chemical and spatial information-- the complete picture of a sample in times ranging from a few minutes to only a few seconds for some types of targeted applications.

The NIR-CI 2450 incorporates the latest technology for NIR chemical imaging and offers an extended wavelength acquisition range and improved throughput and measurement accuracy. The instrument is targeted at pharmaceutical applications in formulation and production. Sample images are collected across a wide spectral range (1200–2450 nm) to use the best possible chemical specificity.

THz Technology

“Terahertz technology discovers its market,” an article on, reviews the recent Optical Society Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) and the Quantum Electronics and Laser Science Conference (QELS) 2006 meeting and exposition in Long Beach California

Spectroscopic THz analysis can help identify explosives, detect biological agents, and screen pharmaceuticals. This powerful tool has grabbed the attention of NASA and the Department of Homeland Security, but it will have plenty of use in chemical, pharmaceutical, and food processing lines in the near future.

Picometrix was one of the first firms to commercialize THz technology. Its parent company, Advanced Photonix Inc., told reporters that the fast GaAs and InGaAs material that they developed were also suitable for THz. The company has recently introduced a research spectroscopic device called the T-Ray 2000 and the first commercial THz imaging system based on it and aimed at the nondestructive testing and quality assurance markets. It can, for instance, discern how many raisins are in a box of cereal. (NB: Their “What is Terahertz (THz)?” Web page is a must read if you want to understand the basics of THz technology.)

Terahertz technology has sponsored many technology conferences and is just beginning to congeal as a community area of interest. The THz Science & Technology Network offers a focus with its news, RSS feeds, virtual journal, and meeting calendar (there are nine meetings scheduled between now and the end of December!).

Be sure to remember the term terahertz. You’ll be hearing lots about it over the next few years. Like RFID, I think it will sweep into industry in a big way—after the government stops buying up all the available products.

Conventional Instrumentation

Emerson Process Management has introduced extreme temperature Micro Motion mass flow meters that offer high reliability and performance for tough applications. With an extreme process temperature rating of up to 800°F (427°C), the Micro Motion Coriolis meter is now the highest rated temperature Coriolis meter available.

The Sentinel, a multipath ultrasonic flowmeter geared to fiscal-custody transfer of natural gas, is part of the Panametrics product line brought to market by GE Sensing. This instrument offers improved accuracy and performs even in nonideal conditions, such as when dealing with liquid carryover and buildup.

Another newcomer to the industrial automation world—and the first of its kind—is a blog sponsored by Keithley Instruments and hosted by Solid State Technology magazine, to support the needs of the test and measurement community associated with semiconductor production and R&D. It’s a valuable source of information and worth a look.

On another front, Sandia National Laboratories and Monsanto Company have announced a three-year research collaboration expected to play a role in both organizations' interests in biology and bioenergy. The alliance will take advantage of Sandia’s depth of know-how in the hyperspectral fluorescence imaging and spectral analysis areas.

Finally, new display technologies are reshaping the products and capabilities available on the market. For instance, Sony has joined Sharp and Samsung in producing LCD HDTV units for consumers, and the electronics giants will offer related products for the computer industry. This surge of activity has increased the need for standards and diagnostic equipment for production.

To support the growth of display technologies, new evaluation and measurement tools are being offered. The new generation of OPTIScope SA from ELDIM in France brings a breakthrough in timing evaluation of LCD display temporal behavior by integrating full-response-time measurement tools, flicker measurements, and an accurate luminance meter. And Gamma Scientific, a manufacturer of light-measurement instrumentation, has announced the GS-940-7X, a revolutionary robotic display-measurement system designed for angular measurement of large-area CRT, LCD, and plasma screens. Unlike conventional goniometric measurement assemblies that continually rotate a display to perform angular measurement, the GS-940-7X uses a six-axis robotic arm/detector assembly that scans the display from virtually any user-specified angle.

It got busy last month, and there seems to be no indication that developments in advanced measurement and sensing will slow down. To keep up to date, Google your area of interest and check out the daily news posted at Sensors Online or subscribe to Sensors Daily.