SUPERTAG, once more (Re[2]:, Bar Codes in tracking samples)

Petersen, Mary E. {ZMUC} mepetersen at ZMUC.KU.DK
Wed Aug 9 15:42:00 CDT 1995

Wednesday, 9 August 1995

I tried to send the following earlier today, using the Reply feature, but
apparently it's not possible to reply to the list in this way, as my message
does not seem to have gotten through.

On Wed,  9 Aug 1995 07:47:36 EST
Karen Wilson <Karen_Wilson at RBGSYD.GOV.AU> wrote:
>In fact, another technology is already being developed by the South
>Africans, as I recall from a message last year: use of a microchip
>for each box/bottle/specimen. The codes could then be read by running
>a reader across the storage shelving. Perhaps someone else remembers
>more of the details?

I think the technology Karen is thinking of might be SUPERTAG.  Is this the
same as the PIT just referred to in a message by Julian Humphries? The
original message about SUPERTAG is repeated below:

================= Begin Forwarded Message ====================

Date:         Tue, 17 May 1994 08:48:00 GMT+200
Reply-To:     matt at MATIES.SUN.AC.ZA
Sender:       Biological Systematics Discussion List
From:         Matt Buys <matt at MATIES.SUN.AC.ZA>
Subject:      SUPERTAG
X-To:         taxacom at
To:           Multiple recipients of list TAXACOM

CSIR (South Africa) is the developer of the concept and is focusing on
transferring their knowledge to applications providers.

Just imagine if one could accurately "read" the entire contents of a
herbarium shelf in less than a second without the need for unpacking;
stock-taking could be a simple act of passing a scanner over the
cupboards to document the entire contents within minutes....

This, and much more, is no longer in the realm of science fiction.  The
CSIR has developed a specialised, fully patented electronic tagging system
with the vision of incorporating a minuscule radio transponder in the
printed packaging of just about any item at very low cost.

What makes the CSIR system totally unique, is that it includes protocols to
allow for many tags to respond to "interrogation" by a reader at the same
time.  Hitherto the ensuing multiple response signals interfere with one
another confusing the signal.  To avoid the problem radio tagged items have
had to be moved one at a time past a reader.  This is often impractical and
sometimes impossible.

The CSIR system, which is protected by patents and is being licensed
internationally, allows tags to be read at the same time from readers with
different polarisations to allow for "unfriendly" orientations of the tag
antennas.  The protocols applied allow many items of the same type, with
the same case or product number, e.g. a number of packets of soap powder,
to be counted without the need for serial numbers.

The tag comprises a single silicon chip that, for example, can be attached
to a herbarium label or specimen, and is invisible to the user except for
the benefits derived from it.  The tags are called passive because they do
not need their own batteries.  Instead they extract energy from the radio
frequency (RF) field used by the interrogating reader to "illuminate" the
items to be identified.  The tags can be read from up to four metres away.
The properties of radio allow the radio waves to penetrate paper and so
read tags that are not visible.

Key problems that prevented the implementation of such an approach in the
past include the lack of simple, low-cost designs specifically targeted at
this problem; the large physical size of currently available transponders;
the non-uniform distribution of RF fields from the interrogator;
interference caused by many tags all responding to the interrogator at the
same time, thereby jamming the reader in the interrogator; the
impossibility of electronic counting of many tags with exactly the same
type number without depending on a system of serial numbers; the physical
attachment of transponders to items; and a limited responding range for
passive tags.

The CSIR has solved most of these problems with its new system, and
simulated field tests have proved the system to be highly accurate.

While tagging of goods in supermarkets is the long term aim the new system
has numerous other possible applications, especially owing to its
capability of handling responses from many tags with different
orientations.  Early applications could include checking the contents of a
truck by simply opening the rear door, taking an inventory of a warehouse
by means of a portable scanner, or examining a book case or pile of
documents with a hand scanner to identify the presence of a sought article.
Other possible uses are in sorting luggage at airports; sorting parcels;
asset control, people tracking, mail routing and animal tagging, and last
but not least, for curatorial purposes.

* Matt Buys                    *                               *
* Dept. of Botany              * Tel: (021) 808 3604           *
* University of Stellenbosch   * Fax: (021) 808 4336           *
* Private Bag X5018            *                               *
* 7599  Stellenbosch           * E-Mail: matt at *
* South Africa                 *                               *

==================== End of Forwarded Message ====================

Mary E. Petersen
Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen
Universitetsparken 15, DK-2100 Copenhagen O, Denmark
Tel: +45-35 32 10 67       Fax: +45-35 32 10 10
E-mail: mepetersen at

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