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RFID Technology: Tags, Readers, and Software

RFID Technology: Tags, Readers, and Software

RFID technology uses radio waves to identify objects and people, via tags and readers. Read more about this fascinating technology in this Techspirited article.
Rita Putatunda
RFID, which is the short form of radio frequency identity, is a DSRC, or dedicated short range communication technology. In fact, RFID refers to several technologies wherein radio waves are used to automatically identify objects or people. The technological concept of RFID is akin to barcode systems of identification that are commonly seen in retail stores. However, one of the main differences between barcode technology and RFID is that RFID is not dependent on line-of-sight reading that is required by barcode scanning for it to work.

The Technology

In the RFID system, signals are transmitted by the electrostatic or electromagnetic coupling in the radio frequency (RF) part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Thus, an RFID system comprises an antenna as well as a transceiver, through which the radio frequency is read, and then the information transferred to a reader, or a processing device, and an RF tag, or a transponder, which contains the information that needs to be transmitted as well as the RF circuitry. The integrated circuit transmits the information it contains to the reader through the antenna. The radio waves that are reflected back via the RFID tag is converted into digital information by the reader, which is then passed on to computers in order to analyze the data.

The Tags―Passive and Active

In RFID systems, the tags that hold the data are of two types: passive tags and active tags.

Passive Tags
In this type, the signals are transmitted through the radio frequency from the reader. Usually, the data is burned permanently into the tag when it is manufactured, although a few of them can be rewritten.

Active Tags
This type is far more sophisticated. They have the ability of transmitting their data signal over larger distances because of the battery they have on board from which they get power. Plus, they also have RAM, or random access memory, which enables them to store the equivalent of 32,000 bytes of data.

The Frequencies

In order for communications to take place, RFID readers and tags need to be tuned into the same frequency, which is similar to tuning to a radio station to listen to your favorite program. A number of frequencies can be used by RFID systems in order to communicate. However, since radio waves act and work differently in various frequencies, a frequency for a particular RFID system is usually dependent on the application it is used for. RFID systems that are of high frequency provide transmission ranges that can exceed even 90 feet. However, wavelengths that are in the range of 2.4 GHz can be absorbed by water, and the human body, and hence, has limitations.

Common Uses

RFID technology can be used practically everywhere, from food to pet tags to missiles to clothing tags―wherever a unique identification system is required. Information can be carried on the tag that can be as complex as instructions on assembling a car to as simple as a sweater's cleaning instructions or the name and address of a pet owner.

Given below are some of the examples the technology being used in day-to-day life.
  • RFID technology is used in retail stores in order to keep track of inventory in real-time, so that the supply of inventory can be monitored and controlled at all times.
  • It is being used in a few hospitals to keep real-time track of the location of patients, doctors, and nurses. Plus, it can also be used to keep track of the whereabouts of critical and expensive equipment, as well as to control the access to drugs and other areas of the hospital where the general public are not allowed to go into.
  • RFID chips that are meant for animals are tiny devices that are injected under the skin with a syringe. When the tag is scanned it provides information like the animal's owner or the medical history of the animal, and so on.
  • Traffic monitoring systems are also being used that are based on this technology. Readers gather signals that are given off by transponders installed in vehicles.
The Future

Many people in the industry are of the opinion that RFID is the frontrunner technology for automatic data collection and identification. One of the main benefits, which is still unproven, would be in the supply chain of consumer goods, wherein an RFID tag attached to a product would enable it to be tracked right from the point of manufacture to the retail store and then to a customer's home.

In fact, the RFID software market is poised for taking off in a big way. It is estimated that the market for business software meant to handle the data that is generated will reach $192 million by 2010.

Many people in the field think that the technology is still in its infancy with its potential still untapped. While there is speculation about the amazingly varied ways this technology can be used, unless there are more standards put in place within the industry, and until there is a reduction in the cost, it is unlikely that this technology will reach its full potential in the near future.