Edible RFID Tags Track Your Food

NutriSmart-track-food-edible-rfid-blogRFID tags are already used to trace everything from foods to hotel towels, but what if these little pellets were embedded directly within your lunch, providing everything you’d ever want to know about that ham sandwich you’re about to eat?

That’s the idea behind NutriSmart — a food tracking system based on edible RFID tags that will tell you more about your food then you ever wanted to know. The system was developed by Hannes Harms, a design engineering student at the Royal College of Art in London.

Passive RFID tags are antennas that don’t need batteries or complicated circuitry. When brought near an RFID reader, they passively transmit a simple code that can be used as an identifier. The tags are simple and cheap to make (you can just print them out), and they can be made small enough such that if you eat one, your stomach acid will naturally break it down into a tiny amount of silver that’s less than what you’d find in tap water. The chip could send information about the food you eat to a personal computer or a mobile phone via a Bluetooth connection.

Just put your meal on the plate and an embedded reader will analyze your foods, telling you the entire supply chain behind it. It also provides nutritional data, ingredients for people who have allergies, calorie-counting for those on diets or maybe even telling your fridge when the food has gone off.

However, the idea still raises a lot of questions. First is safety. People ingest electronic cameras often enough — the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first ones a decade ago. But those cameras are used to diagnose serious conditions, not eaten daily. Then there’s privacy. Do you want the whole world to know about your food allergy or diabetes? Are you comfortable telling unknown parties your eating habits? Last is cost. RFID chips can be made cheaply, but adding a dollar to the cost of a dollar food item is a leap many people might not want to make.

It isn’t clear whether Harms could commercialize this — he has presented designs for interactive furniture and a small, portable ultrasound unit, but they seem to be industrial design concepts more than anything else. That said, the idea itself is intriguing and is a nice example of how we can take advantage of the technology.