Long lines at store checkouts could be history if a new technology created in part at Rice University comes to pass.
Rice researchers, in collaboration with a team led by Gyou-jin Cho at Sunchon National University in Korea, have come up with an inexpensive, printable transmitter that can be invisibly embedded in packaging. It would allow a customer to walk a cart full of groceries or other goods past a scanner on the way to the car; the scanner would read all items in the cart at once, total them up and charge the customer's account while adjusting the store's inventory.
More advanced versions could collect all the information about the contents of a store in an instant, letting a retailer know where every package is at any time.
"We are going to a society where RFID is a key player," said Cho, a professor of printed electronics engineering at Sunchon, who expects the technology to mature in five years. Cho and his team are developing the electronics as well as the roll-to-roll printing process that, he said, will bring the cost of printing the tags down to a penny apiece and make them ubiquitous.
RFID tags are almost everywhere already. The tiny electronic transmitters are used to identify and track products and farm animals. They're in passports, library books and devices that let drivers pass through tollbooths without digging for change.
But RFID tags to date are largely silicon-based. Paper or plastic tags printed as part of a package would cut costs dramatically. Cho expects his roll-to-roll technique, which uses a gravure process rather than ink-jet printers, to replace the bar codes now festooned on just about everything you can buy.