Could Plastic Electronics Get Useful?

Plastic electronics has so far been one of those technologies looking for applications, so an organic RFID tag from Imec could start to make the whole area useful.

Pushing a trolley out of the supermarket with the bill tallied, presented and paid as you leave is a winning application.

Under a €3.2 million FP7 programme, Imec has used plastic foil as the base for thin-film RFID chips.


The RF field of an RFID reader powers up the tag, which transmits its code to the reader.


Problems caused by a gaggle of goods all transmitting data simultaneously have been avoided.


“When the RFID reader first powers and contacts the tag, it transmits a clock and identification data,” explains Imec’s Paul Heremans, “the tag then uses this data and clock to determine when to send its code. This mechanism for the first time allows implementing a practical anti-collision scheme for thin-film RFID tags.”



  1. Ooooh! I hate those self-service checkouts.
    If I buy beer, glue, razorblades, cutlery, etc then somebody has to come and verify my age anyway so I just join the shortest queue and try to ignore the 70% of empty checkouts.
    Give me a human over a computer every day!
    Some of these “initiatives” ignore a basic principle of human existence, namely that people (with the exception of computer gamers and some Engineers) actually like to interact with other human beings. I’m with Chris on this one – pretty cashiers make the wait worthwhile.

  2. Well if the Greek bonds are secured on a tasty piece of Greek real estate, Dr Bob, they could be worth having.

  3. Just been notified my grant is being given as Greek Bonds!

  4. That, Chris, makes me wish I was 30 years younger. That’s how long it’s been since I struggled with that dilemma. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. It will be a sad day when you no longer have to choose between the checkout with the shortest queue or the one with the prettiest cashier.

  6. Awesome, Dr Bob, a Techo-Ponzi opportunity par excellence. Spend the research grant quickly.

  7. David how about another Techno-Ponzu scheme along these lines. (u pronouced as i this side of the bridge).
    Many years ago I worked with an ex-BP employee who knew everything about Ice including the fact that you can make transistors from it. Now if the RFID thingy was made from Ice not only would it be low cost but also it could be used to check temperatures automatically in transit. In otherwords if it ceased to function (melted) then you would know if it had been stored and transported correctly.
    I can see the research grants coming even as I type, and the royalties.

  8. Yes, Chris, Yes you may well be right – this could well be just another Techno-Ponzi scheme for extracting R&D budgets out of gullible managers and politicians. It’s been going on for so long – mostly it seems emanating from Cambridge, that you assume there’s merit in it, but I’m becoming as cynical as you about whether plastic electronics will ever amount to anything. But while there are mugs to pay the piper, we may as well listen to the tunes.

  9. David, I would have thought you would know better by now…
    From personal experience this is just another waste of tax payers money on a fantasy technology project that will never work. Just consider the basic physics of trying to pass radio waves through tin cans and ionic liquids reliably. Unless the supermarkets are prepared to give 1 in every 100 items away for free (me thinks not) very high accuracy rates will be required. Even if you could get around all those issues you might as well use the technology that works – silicon. And before anyone says what about printing transistors at low cost, that’s perfect as long a you don’t actually want two transistors the same.
    Why can’t they put this money to creating useful devices with conventional electronics (that works!). It’s just a Boondoggle.

  10. I agree with you Keith, in fact we do not even use the self service checkouts either. After all what’s wrong with a natter at the checkout.

  11. Actually, FP7 (European funding programme) is well known for sponsoring “ivory tower” type of “research”, always hiding themselves behind the term to avoid links with reality. In practice, what counts is that this money also pays for some product development behind the scenes, and is a kind of traineeship for future project managers. At one time, the sesame to get funding was to get at least one greek partner. This says enough …

  12. Maybe Imec should visit a supermarket before wasting EU taxpayers money on such stuff.
    In my local Waitrose, for many years you’ve been able to pick up a hand held scanner and scan your purchases as you shop, then go to the checkout and pay. A rather unscientific estimation of the number of people who do this is less than 10% of shoppers. I don’t use it – it doesn’t really save much time, besides I want to support the jobs of people who work there, not replace them with robots.

  13. Ha Ha, HsinchuDays, you’re absolutely right of course. N.B. The historical ones are actually on Tuesday mornings.

  14. Dear David, I know you do historical Blogs on Monday, but you forgot the year tag for this one. I’ve been seeing this kind of announcement for organic RFID tags for at least the last 10 years.

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