The Skinny on RFID

by John Hanson

RFID is the abbreviation for Radio Frequency Identification. RFID is a method used to store and retrieve data using RFID transponders or tags. RFID tags have antennas that allow them to accept and respond to queries from the RFID transceiver. There are passive and active RFID tags. The difference between the two is that passive tags do not need an internal power source, but active tags do. RFID technology is already used in many technologies today. The future of RFID technology seems limitless as new ways to utilize its effectiveness are discovered frequently.

Passive and Active Tags

As stated before, passive RFID tags do not have an internal power supply. There is a minute electrical current induced in the antenna by the radio signal it receives. This small current is enough to power the tag to respond to the signal. Passive RFID tags have a very brief response because of their limited power. They are very small, and may be used in the future for medical purposes or, as some fear, tracking devices. Passive RFID tags can be embedded within the skin because of their small size. The smallest RFID tag in existence in 2005 was 0.4 mm by 0.4 mm. Passive tags have a read distance that ranges from 10mm to almost 6 meters. Passive tags are cheaper than active RFID tags and as a result are more commercially available. Active RFID tags have a longer range and larger memory capacity than passive RFID tags and may therefore be able to store a significantly higher amount of information. Active RFID tags may have a battery life of up to 10 years.

How it Works

In order to understand the uses, and potential uses, of RFID technology, one must understand the RFID system. RFID systems consist of tag readers, tags, edge servers, middleware, and application software. Having an RFID system will allow data to be transmitted by a tag, which is then read by the RFID reader and processed in accordance with the applications specifications. Data transmitted can have information about the location of the tag, or specifics concerning the product tagged. Typical RFID systems have a small and inexpensive tag on a product. There is then an “interrogator” which has a certain range in which to detect the RFID tag, activate it, and receive the response.

Current and Potential Uses

RFID technology is used in every day life. RFID tags are found in CD stores and in library books. When an alarm goes off because an item was not purchased or checked out, that is the RFID tag responding. Wal-Mart has even used RFID tags on shipments to improve supply chain management. Other RFID tags are used to track trucks in shipping yards. More recently, RFID tags have been used in automated tool booth systems like the E-ZPass system on the east coast. Mobile gas also implemented RFID technology to allow customers to simply pull up to the pump, pump gas, and then leave without having to scan a credit card or pay a cashier.

RFID technology has great potential and is constantly being improved. RFID workers are constantly trying to improve the current usage in systems like E-ZPass. It was recently announced that the eastern states will be improving E-ZPass so that cars can move faster through the tool-booth (35mph rather than 5mph). RFID technology may also be used to monitor inmates, and potentially parolees. Some consumers worry as to citizen privacy invasions by the government. RFID technology is always growing, and the government may be able to use RFID to inspect citizens, or keep track of them. Currently, however, RFID technology seems to be limited to the innovation sphere. RFID technology has been utilized to make the lives of consumers easier and more efficient. Despite the qualms of some citizens, RFID has a very bright future.

John Hanson enjoys writing about new technologies, especially RFID technology.

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