Tokyo -- Hitachi Ltd. will begin volume production this year of an RFID inlet developed by the publicly financed Hibiki project. Details of the technology will be disclosed publicly after the company delivers its final report to Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) today.
Hitachi is lead developer in the Hibiki (meaning resonance or harmonization) project, formed two years ago to hammer out specifications for a 5-cent UHF RFID inlet. The inlet is the core of an RFID tag, consisting of an antenna film and an inlaid radio frequency identification chip.
To be truly useful, the inlet has to go inside labels of various shapes and forms--paper labels as well as labels embedded inside a plastic card or encased in rubber or resin. The cost of RFID tag manufacturing is usually much higher than that of the inlet itself--often more than 10 times as much.
The prototype inlet, a 15-cm dipole antenna with an inlaid Hibiki chip, has cleared field tests in various application scenarios. It has been used by Japan's military, hospitals, a service-robot developer, food distributors, carmakers, and book and music distributors.
Keys for adoption
A recognized international standard and a low price tag are considered key to fostering the use of RFID tags beyond industry boundaries and national borders. The Hibiki technology will meet ISO/IEC 18000-6 Type C requirements, established as an ISO standard based on EPCglobal's UHF Generation 2 air interface protocol.
"If the price drops to 5 yen [or roughly 5 cents], IC tag penetration gains momentum," said Keisuke Sasaki, deputy director of the Information Economy Division, Commerce and Information Policy Bureau at METI.
METI launched Hibiki in August 2004 and has funded it with about $17 million. With Hitachi taking the lead role, NEC Corp., Dai Nippon Printing Co. Ltd. and Toppan Printing Co. Ltd. signed on as supporting companies. Fujitsu Ltd. joined the effort in 2005.
The specification set for the Hibiki inlet is a baseline. "Because reduction of cost was our priority, we limited functions to the minimum. Once we achieve the target, then we can add functions to meet various requirements. We can add larger memory capacity, make it security-ready or even add sensors," said METI's Sasaki.
The tag chip is rewritable, with a minimum memory of 512 bits. The inlet takes less than 10 milliseconds for one ID recognition. It reads data in a 3-meter range and writes data in a 1-meter range. It covers the 800- to 900-MHz UHF band.
At the same time, Hitachi has been promoting its own proprietary µ-chip for RFID purposes. Developed in 2001, this read-only chip has a 128-bit identification code and is designed to communicate using the 2.45-GHz band rather than UHF. Hitachi supplied 25 million µ-chip-based tickets for the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi, Japan. Only 200 rejects were reported, Hitachi said.
The µ-chip, at 0.44 mm square and 0.06 mm thick, is almost invisible. Hitachi made the Hibiki RFID chip as thin as 0.3 mm, while developing a special mounting technology that can connect the antenna and chip accurately and quickly.
Hitachi owns the intellectual property developed through the Hibiki project, but has agreed to open the IP to third parties at a reasonable licensing fee. Although NEC and Fujitsu are also involved in the project, their interest is not in producing tags but in developing RFID systems including readers and writers. For the time being, Hitachi will be the sole supplier of the Hibiki tag inlet.
"We have a vertical-integration model for our RFID business, ranging from the component to systems and services," said Ryo Imura, executive managing director of Hitachi's Tracing & Tracking Systems Division. "That makes us very competitive in the RFID market." Hitachi hopes to increase its RFID revenue to about $685 million by 2010.