From smart thermostats to toothbrushes with built-in Bluetooth connectivity, smart devices play an increasingly important role in our lives today. Yet the importance of smart devices is extending beyond our households and into critical areas like healthcare.
One such example of a smart device is a recently announced pre-filled syringe made by NP Plastibell that is able to relay important information about its contents to doctors and patients using near-field communications (NFC) technology.
NFC-enabled smart syringe by NP Plastibell. Image courtesy of STMicroelectronics
NFC Enables Data Storage Onboard Syringe
While the syringe itself may appear ordinary from the outside, it contains an embedded NFC tag inside that can store and transmit information about the pre-filled contents of the syringe. The tag is the STMicroelectronics’ ST25TV NFC tag.
The ST25TV uses an onboard EEPROM to store data that can be communicated to an NFC reader. In the case of a smart syringe, this data could be the expiration date, dosage, and side effects of the pre-filled medicine in the syringe.
The ST25TV NFC tag by STMicroelectronics. Image courtesy of STMicroelectronics
One of the fundamental values of NFC tags is that they do not require batteries to operate. They are powered when placed in close proximity to an NFC reader, such as a smartphone.
Together, the NFC reader and NFC tag form the entire NFC system, which enables communication with objects such as the NP Plastibell syringe. The NFC reader is known as the “active” part of the NFC system and the NFC tag is known as the “passive” part of the system.
The NFC reader initiates all communication with the NFC tag. For example, when the user brings the NFC reader in close proximity to the NFC tag, the reader initiates communication, powers up the tag, and transmits information to and from the tag to the reader. Only an NFC reader can communicate with an NFC tag; this adds a layer of authentication by only allowing NFC devices to read the data stored on the tag.
There are four main modes in which the system can operate: reader mode, card emulation mode, peer-to-peer mode, and charging mode. As shown in the image below, these modes describe the ways the reader and tag can interact.
Four modes of communication in an NFC system. Image courtesy of STMicroelectronics
Wireless charging is an example of a widespread technology that is enabled by NFC technology.
Inductive Coupling Underlies NFC Technology
NFC can be thought of as a shorter-range type of RFID (radio frequency identification) technology. While RFID technology operates over a range measured in meters, NFC operates over centimeters.
An NFC reader/tag system. Image courtesy of Wireless Power Transfer
The NFC reader generally communicates with the NFC tag using a standard frequency of 13.56 MHz. The underlying phenomenon enabling this communication is called inductive coupling. Inductive coupling allows communication between the reader and tag.
Inductive coupling between NFC TX and RX. Image courtesy of Wireless Power Transfer
By Ampere’s law, a magnetic field is generated by a current in a wire in the NFC reader TX. Consequently, by Faraday’s law of induction, when this magnetic field is brought into proximity with the tag, a voltage is generated. Communication can take place between the NFC reader and tag in this manner.
NP Plastibell Plans More NFC-enabled Smart Products
Utilizing its packaging and plastics expertise, NP Plastibell aims to release surgical and diagnostic devices to market in the future. In a joint press release with STMicroelectronics, Matthieu Besse, an R&D manager at NP Plastibell, indicated plans to use NFC technology in other healthcare applications, including diagnostic devices, surgical devices, implant packaging, and pharmaceutical packaging.
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