What Are RFID Tags And How Do They Work?
Within this short article I am going to make clear exactly what a RFID tag is, and a few of its basic uses. I have done my very best to break all the things down without sounding to much like a tech-geek – at the end of the day I must keep my true identity a mystery (you know… Like Clark Kent LOL). With that aside, lets dive in and I will do my best to deal with the question, “What are RFID tags?”
In short RFID stands for Radio-frequency Identification, and it is an amazing technology that makes use of radio waves in order to transmit details from an electronic tag. The tag is called??? Yep you guessed it a RFID Tag. Regularly the phrase RFID label is used instead of RFID tag. This tag or device is mounted to a product, via a reader for the purpose of tracking and identifying a distinct object or group of objects. All depending on the make and model of the RFID tag, it can be read from quite a few feet away.
Only to keep things structured there are a number of agencies which have set expectations for the RFID. You will find also several enterprises that have set specific regulations to be used as a standard for tracking assets when using RFID tags.
You could typically attach RFID tags to anything i.e. cars, computers, books, smartphones – even everyday people. It is essentially industry standard among top notch healthcare individuals to use RFID tags to keep track of stock and even affected individuals.
A few industry gurus would like to use RFID tags in addition to barcodes as an alternate security measurement. If you have ever been browsing in a retail store and by accident stepped to close to the front door and set off the alarm. That my friend was RFID tag technological innovation at work.
RFID tags typically come in three choices, active, passive, or battery assisted passive. Since I pledged to not sound to geeky I will breakdown the three models. The active version has an on-board battery that always broadcasts a signal. Passive RFID tags do not use a battery, and a battery assisted passive also known as a (BAP) has a small battery on board that is activated when it is in the vicinity of the RFID reader.
I’m not surprised that asset tracking is one of the most popular purposes for RFID. Companies will place RFID tags on their assets to prevent them to make it easier to recover if it is lost or stolen. Every type of RFID system is used for some sort of asset management. You can use RFID for real-time locating. It uses active RFID beacons and has the ability to locate a container to within a few feet. I don’t know about you but that is truly amazing. From what I understand there is still more technological advances coming down the pipeline.
As standards began to emerge, more and more companies are starting to turn to RFID as a means to track their shipments among other supply chains and partners.
Big retailers such as Wal-Mart are leading the way by adopting RFID technology. One of Wal-Marts goals as well as other comparable chains is to improve supply chain efficiency. They also want to ensure that the product is on the shelf whenever a consumer wants to buy it.
RFID in no stranger in the supply space, however it is rapidly catching on as an efficient payment methods. The state of New Jersey has been using RFID for years to allow individuals to pay for road tolls without having to stop. RFID technology has caught on in a lot of countries around the world. The technology is currently being tested in some fast food restaurants to pay for food at the drive-through window.
Security and Access Control
RFID has been used as an access device for awhile to control who would have access to a particular office building. This would track who came in and out as well as the time of each of the actions. The original access control systems used a low-frequency RFID tag.
Just like all technology the RFID technology has made great advancements also. Vendors have recently introduced 13.56 MHz systems that offer a longer read range. The advantage of this technology means that and employee only has to hold up a badge in order to unlock a door, as compared to the old method of having to use a key or having to swipe a magnetic stripe card.
I predict that RFID technology will continue to evolve and as it does it will become more affordable on a consumer level. We will then see residential homes utilizing the devices. We may even end up having cars using the devices to start and track the maintenance of automobiles.
RFID has a huge advantage over barcodes because you do not have to position the RFID tag relative to the scanner in order for it to work properly. If you have not been living in a cave or under a rock some place then chance are you are familiar with the difficulty that some checkout clerks have had when it comes to getting a barcode to scan properly. The same applies to credit cards when you try to swipe them through a reader.
On the other hand RFID devices will work as long as the tag or label is within range. This can be up to 20 feet depending on the frequency of the scanner. In the future you will be able to shop as usual by loading your grocery cart with your items. All you have to do is pass through a scanner and the device will be able to total your items immediately.
RFID technology has been available for a little over fifty years. In the past few years the industry has the ability to manufacture RFID as throwaway inventory or control devices. A company by the name of Alien Technologies recently sold 500 million RFID tags to Gillette at a cost of ten cents each. That is amazing, not to mention a lot of money.
It has taken RFID a long time to be used in common everyday practices because of its lack of standards in the industry. Those companies that invested in RFID technology use the tags to track items from company to company or country to country.
RFID doesn’t come without its share of problems, such as reader collision and tag collision. You probably asking yourself what is reader collision and tag collision? Well your in luck because I will explain each of them to you. A reader collision as the name states, occurs when the signals from two or more readers overlap. RFID tags do not have the ability to respond to multiple queries. It all comes down to setting up the system correctly to avoid these issues. Tags collision happens when you have multiple tags in a small proximity. The good thing is the read time of the tags are extremely fast. This makes it easy for vendors to create a system that ensures the response time is one at a time.
The up rising of various groups around the world are concerned about the use of RFIDs to track the movements of people. A good example of this argument is passports will soon be required to contain some sort of RFID in an effort to speed up border crossings. Some airports have already implemented scanners that have the ability to track the location of every passport. The ultimate goal is to track “passports” from the time the traveler leaves the parking lot to the moment they get on the plane.
Another major concern by some of these organizations is that even after an individual leaves the store, is that the RDIF is still active. This means that a thief could scan your bags and know exactly what it is that you have, thus making you a potential victim. A burglar could circle your house with a scanner and know what you have in your house before he or she decides to rob it.
The concerns about RDIF technology has even reached the military level. Some people are concerned with items carried by high ranking officers, and roadside bombs that could be triggered by their RDIF device.
Wal-Mart recently ran a secret test by placing RFID tags in lipstick, with scanners hidden inside of nearby shelves. Whenever a consumer picked up some lipstick the movement of the tag triggered surveillance cameras. This allowed the team of researchers over 750 miles away to monitor the consumers activity as they continued to shop.
An active tag is equipped with a battery that depending on the model can be used as a partial or complete source of power for the tags circuitry as well as the antenna. Some active tags even contain replaceable batteries for years of use while others are sealed. There are even models that have the ability to connect to an external power source.
Pros: Active RFID tags can be read from great distances i.e. a hundred feet or more. Some have other sensors that can use electricity for power.
Cons: The tag does not have the ability to function without power. Another con is the fact that tags are generally more expensive. The average price of an active RFID tag is usually around $20 or more.
If a barcode label that contains a RFID transponder it is considered a RFID smart label. RFID smart labels have the ability to store information i.e. serial numbers and they can communicate with an RFID reader, it is for that reason that it is considered smart.
The barcode technology that we use today is every can of cola has the same UPC or barcode number as every other cola can. The difference is using RFID technology every can of cola would have a unique ID number which could be linked to the person buying it when they scan a credit card or frequent shopper card.
As mentioned a few times barcodes have to be in direct line of sight of the scanner in order to be effective. However with RDIF you can read the tags through clothes, backpacks, wallets or even a purse – without the persons knowledge or consent. All you need is the right reader.
RFID has been said to be bad for your health. On the flip side of the coin, RFID supporters if they could have their way would like to see a world where RFID readers are everywhere i.e. in stores, in floors, doorways, aboard planes, refrigerators and medicine cabinets of our own homes. If they had their way we all would be continually bombarded with electromagnetic energy. As of the time of this writing researchers do not know the long-term health effects of chronic exposure to the energy emitted by the RFID devices.