RFID - The Basics

Written By Arman Zulhajar on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 | 1:08 AM

By Owen Jones

RFID stands for 'Radio Frequency Identification'. It involves the utilization of an object normally made of plastic or metal to identify an object in a similar way to bar codes identify items. In fact, they are used in a very similar way to bar codes and, at least for the foreseeable future, are usually used in conjunction with bar codes.

However, RFID tags are a lot more adaptable than a piece of paper with a few black lines on it. RFID tags can be and are being sewn into clothing and fitted under the skins of animals and humans for ease of tracking. Many of the goods you buy in supermarkets these days have RFID tags sewn into them, but do not try looking for them because they can be tiny. They can also be under the labels of those tins of beans in your cupboard.

An RFID tag is used to be able to follow an item from manufacturer to consumer, but especially when it is in the warehouse or supermarket waiting to be sold. A tag reader will be able to transmit the tag's information back to a computer to warn management that something is near its sell-by-date, for instance.

Tags in cattle allow the abattoir to be able to trace the animal back to a farm and pass this information on to the butcher. An RFID tag under your dog's skin or your car's bonnet will allow it to be found if lost or stolen.

There are essentially two types of RFID tags: the passive kind and the active kind and there is a hybrid as well. The passive tag is similar to a bar code. It bears the same information and then more in addition. Similar to a bar code, it can do nothing on its own, but when it is read it will divulge its data. These tag readers give the tag enough power to be able to send the information back to it.

The active tags have a battery and a transmitter constructed into them, so that they can actively transmit the data all the time and the hybrids will only transmit when 'switched on' by a tag reader.

There is still some disagreement about how far away a tag reader can read a tag. In the case of a passive tag, it depends on the power that the reader can supply over a long distance. Most are designed to work over only a few inches or feet, but more high-capacity ones could be built. Active and hybrid tags actively broadcast, so they can be read from 100 metres (300 feet) or more.

These tags have been around for a very long time in one form or another, but certainly since the Second World War, when they were deployed to identify home-coming British planes to save them from the RADAR-directed anti-aircraft guns.

The concern as far as many organizations are concerned, is that technology has progressed so much that the tags can be practically invisible and the readers could be anywhere, which evokes concerns for personal privacy.

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