Researchers advance versatile tech


New technology may soon help people buy groceries without taking them out of the cart, and it… New technology may soon help people buy groceries without taking them out of the cart, and it could also help treat Parkinson’s disease and depression.

Marlin Mickle, professor of electrical, industrial and computer engineering, as well as telecommunications at Pitt, said that there could be uses for this technology in many industries.

“Any place we can do this for, whether it’s homeland security, medical research or communications, all of those would fall under this technology,” Mickle said.

Radio frequency identification technology draws energy out of the air or from nearby objects to power itself and transmits it back at a different frequency. This allows for incredibly small computer chips or electrical components to run without batteries and to wirelessly communicate over distances.

Pitt consolidated this research and formally announced the creation of the Radio Frequency Identification Center for Excellence, with Mickle as its director, Wednesday, Sept. 28 at a special event on the 5th floor of Alumni Hall.

Representatives from about 30 organizations attended, including Supply Systems Inc. and Del Monte Foods.

One demonstration of the radio frequency identification system involved first scanning a shopping cart full of products each equipped with RFID chips. The chips then transmitted back the barcode signals.

“We walked it past a checkout station, and everything was rung up without taking it out of the cart,” Mickle said.

In severe cases of Parkinson’s disease, doctors now can place a probe in the brain and run a wire down through the body to help stop tremors. But if they applied the new technology, the device would not need a wire to function and could instead draw its power from an outside source.

“The device would take its energy from a hat or something, that would get rid of some of the complications of Parkinson’s disease,” Mickle said.

RFID technology could also combat depression by allowing for the placement of small electrical components that could stimulate the vagus nerve, partly responsible for depression, without the need for batteries.

It could also be equipped inside water, gas and electrical meters so that utility companies could read them remotely without having to send someone in person. This could potentially eliminate the use of batteries in such devices.

Although possibilities for different types of wireless communications exist, Mickle said that the technology is still being fully researched, and that it will not be used yet in certain situations.

“We don’t want to do things yet that are life-critical,” Mickle said.

Gerald Holder, dean of the School of Engineering, said in a press release that the technology has great potential.

“The RFID Center, led by professor Mickle, will be a powerhouse of creativity and technological innovation that should lead to significant improvements in the economy and simplify the lives of consumers,” Holder said. “We’re excited about its huge potential.”