Energy harvesting RFID temperature sensor battles Covid-19

Energy harvesting RFID temperature sensor battles Covid-19

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

The system developed by Powercast in the US is comprised of an energy harvesting temperature-scanning fob for each employee, an RFID reader, and a TV monitor. Employees receive a fob small enough to fit onto their keychain that is personalized to them. The fob quickly charges when held near an RFID reader at the entrance to a site using Powercast’s patented power harvesting technology. Employees scan their own forehead using the fob to read their temperature, and are permitted to enter or are denied entry based on the reading, which appears on the monitor.

For larger organizations and those on corporate campuses, multiple readers can be used to keep a record for contact tracing if issues arise. Once employees take their temperature when entering the building, they can return the fob to their pocket and do not need to remove it again for location tracking. In the case of Covid-19 exposure, timestamped information can be automatically gathered from the readers to ensure that all potentially exposed employees are notified.

Powercast’s Temperature Scanning System is already in use at its headquarters in Pittsburgh’s RIDC Park. The RFID reader antenna is integrated into the company’s check-in counter, enabling fast, hands-free screening. During the first 12 days, the system took a total of 300 readings, which were as accurate as a traditional handheld thermometer.

Wireless power provides a distinct advantage over handheld devices that are shared and hard to maintain germ-free, or other modes that require employees to stop and write down their information, potentially sharing pens and creating a blockage at entry points. 

“We designed this new Temperature Scanning System to take advantage of proven technologies that can be quickly and easily implemented by companies of all sizes so that they can get back to work, safely and without a huge imposition to workers,” said Dr Charles Greene, chief operating and technical officer of Powercast. “This is one of many ways we are applying wireless power to solve real-world problems and eliminate some of the limits of other alternatives.”

The RFID Temperature Scanning System uses RAIN RFID readers as its source of RF wireless power. The System’s over-the-air RF harvesting technology can harness RF energy from Powercast’s own PowerSpot or Powercaster RF wireless power transmitters, or from industry standard UHF RFID readers.


Next: Energy harvesting technology

The enabling technology behind the system is Powercast’s Powerharvester receiver chip, which harvests RF automatically when in range of an RF power source, and then converts it to direct current to power the application. The chip is highly efficient and effective in deriving power from even very small amounts of RF and is currently being used in a number of consumer and business applications where wireless power provides a distinct advantage.

Each battery-less fob contains an RFID chip, which identifies its owner; a Powercast Powerharvester receiver chip; a Microchip Technology PIC24F04KA201 microcontroller (MCU) and a temperature sensor. The employee simply holds their fob device in a designated power area equipped with an RFID reader antenna and a TV screen. The fob harvests the RF to power up the temperature sensor. After recording the temperature, the data is sent to the RFID reader to read. The TV screen then displays the employee’s name, temperature, and either a green or red light to indicate if they may enter.

Powercast chose Microchip’s PIC24F04KA201 MCU because of its minimal power consumption and ability to incorporate I2C and an analog-to-digital converter into a very small package, enabling a car fob-like size. In addition, Microchip’s MPLAB Code Configurator sped up the concept-to-prototype process, resulting in a commercially-available system in less than 2 months.

“The PIC24F microcontroller family is a perfect fit for the Powercast temperature scanning fob due to the extreme low power consumption, flexible peripheral set and small form factor. Microchip’s toolchain enables rapid development and commercialization as demonstrated by this product,” said Joe Thomsen, vice president of Microchip’s MCU16 business unit. “Creative designers are able to quickly develop low-power solutions like this temperature scanning key fob, ensuring employees return to work in a safe environment.”

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