RFID is an acronym for Radio Frequency Identification. This technology uses radio frequencies for the purpose of identification and tracking of assets, animals, and traffic. The following is a brief look at the basic architecture of this technology.
Similar to any communication device, RFID technology consists of transmitters and receivers in the form of RFID tags. These are microchips that store all the necessary information in them. The information is comprehended with the help of an RFID card reader. An antenna present on the tags is used in the transmission as well as the reception of signals.
There are basically three types of RFID tags that are commonly used: active, passive, and semi-passive. An active tag comprises a transmitter and a power source (typically a battery) which is used to power the microchip's circuitry as well as for broadcasting the signal to a reader. Passive tags, on the other hand, do not include a battery, and instead are able to draw power from the reader itself. On receiving an electromagnetic wave, a current gets induced in the tag's antenna, which is used for the working of the passive tag's circuitry. In the third type, which is the semi-passive, a battery is used to power the chip's circuitry, while the communication takes place via the power drawn from the reader.
Most commonly, active and semi-passive RFID tags, being comparatively more expensive, are used for tracking high-value goods over long ranges; for example, railway cars on a track. The passive tags, being cheaper than the other two options, find use in tracking low-cost items, such as the ones available for sale in a mall.
Advantages and Disadvantages of RFID
- RFID tags are very easy to install/inject inside the body of animals, thus helping to keep a track on them. This is useful in animal husbandry and the poultry industry, wherein the installed tags give information about the age, vaccinations, and health of the animal.
- It is better than barcodes, as it cannot be easily replicated, and therefore, increases the security on a product.
- Supply chain management forms the major part of retail business, and RFID systems play a key role by helping in managing the updates of stocks, and during the transportation and logistics of the product.
- RFID tags are placed inside jewelry items in stores, and an alarm is installed at the exit doors. If an unauthorized attempt is made to move the jewelry items away from the premises, the alarm gets activated. This mechanism provides a much more robust type of security as compared to barcode scanners, as the barcode pattern is prone to being replicated.
- These tags can store data up to 2 KB, whereas, a barcode has the ability to read just 10 - 12 digits. This allows one to store a more stronger encoded identification series within it.
- RFID proves to be too expensive for many applications as compared to other tracking and identification methods, such as the simple barcode.
- It is difficult for an RFID reader to read the information in case the tags are installed in liquid or metal products. The problem here is that, liquid and metal surfaces tend to reflect radio waves, which makes the tags unreadable. In such applications, they have to be placed in various alignments and angles for taking proper readings, which may be too cumbersome and time-consuming.
- Interference has been observed to take place in RFID systems, when devices such as forklifts and walkies-talkies are in the vicinity. The presence of mobile phone towers too has been found to interfere with these radio waves. The retail sector giant Walmart, which has installed billions of RFID tags in their products throughout the world, have reported such problems in their systems.
- RFID signal frequencies across the world are non standardized. For instance, the US and Europe have a different range of frequencies at which RFID tags function. This makes it mandatory for international shipping companies and other organizations to be aware of the working pattern in other nations.
- RFID is considered by many to be an invasive technology. Consumers tend to worry about their privacy when they purchase products with these tags, as there is a belief that once radio chips are installed in a product, it continues to track a person, and his personal information can be collected by it and transmitted to the reader. So while many stores claim that they deactivate the tags after the product has been purchased, buyers still continue to remain apprehensive of this technology.