Radio Frequency Identification
Since its invention, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology has slowly become integrated in our civilization. Today, a variety of RFID applications are utilized by governments, businesses, and individuals for a variety of specific purposes. RFID applications that many of us interact with on a daily basis include RFID equipped: automotive ignition systems (keys), electronic highway toll passes (EZ pass), and retail store security. And while some of the current uses of RFID are quite fascinating, as this technology continues to advance and the cost continues to decrease its future applications have the potential to further enhance businesses efficiencies and effectiveness in supply chain processes. In addition, the future of RFID technology has the potential to directly effect consumer experiences by changing the way consumers perform certain activities such as shopping, and paying for products or services.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is an auto-ID technology that uses “radio frequency signals for automatic identification of objects/items” (Rawal, 58). Commonly referred to as RFID tags, or smart tags, these tags are typically used for identification and tracking of objects, people, and animals. The type of RFID system that is used for a situation is highly based on the application. According to Landt (2005) “RFID systems can be read-only (data is transferred only in one direction, from the tag to the reader) or read-write (two-way communication)” (8). A basic RFID system consists of RFID tags (transponder), RFID readers (transceiver), and a computer network or software.
RFID tags use a microchip to store data on and an antenna (passive) or transponder (active) for transmitting the data via radio frequency. The data stored on and transmitted by the microchip “may provide identification or location information, or specifics about the product tagged, such as price, color, date of purchase, etc.” (Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility). RFID tags can come in a variety of sizes, with a variety of different features. Although, RFID tags performance is based on its “read range, transmission speed, and the impact caused by surrounding objects” (Rawal, 2009, 60). Furthermore, RFID tags are classified as either active, or passive. According to Rawal (2009) “RFID tags are further divided into active and passive tags. An RFID device that uses a battery and actively transmits to a reader is termed an “active" tag. An RFID tag that only reflects or back scatters transmission from a reader is termed passive. In general, active tags use batteries to power the tag transmitter (radio) and receiver. Active tags are usually larger in size and more expensive than passive tags. The life of an active tag is directly related to battery life” (62).
The RFID reader is what is used to retrieve the data from the tags. A RFID reader “is a device that has one or more antennas that emit radio waves and receive signals back from the tag, then the reader then passes the information in digital form to a computer system.” (RFID Journal). The readers can be hand-held, fixed, portable, and so on. RFID readers ranges depend on the frequency that they and the tags are utilizing. Landt (2005) explains: “to transfer data from the tag to the reader, the reader sends an unmodulated signal to the tag. The tag reads its internal memory of stored data and changes the loading on the tag antenna in a coded manner corresponding to the stored data. The signal reflected from the tag is thus modulated with this coded information. This modulated signal is received by the reader, demodulated using a homodyne receiver, and decoded and output as digital information that contains the data stored in the tag.” (8)
One example of an RFID system is the new RFID system retailer Walmart is implementing. Walmart plans on starting to embed RFID tags in its “men’s blue jeans and underwear in an effort to improve the logistics of inventory management” (Wolverton, 2010). Walmart has used RFID technology for sometime now to “track pallets of goods from factory to warehouse to the local outlet”, and as an anti-theft feature on some of its products. (Wolverton, 2010). However, the new system being put in place will allow even low priced items to include RFID tags. The new RFID tags being used by Walmart “are reportedly passive”, and the readers will be the hand-held type. (Wolverton, 2010).
Another example of an RFID system in use is the Mobile/Exxon Speedpass key tag. Mobile/Exxon's RFID key tag has been in use for years now; it utilizes passive RFID technology. The way the system works is: “Your Speedpass key tag has a built-in chip and radio frequency antenna that allows it to communicate with Speedpass readers at gasoline pumps, convenience store terminals, and car wash kiosks at Exxon and Mobil locations. A quick wave of your Speedpass key tag in front of the reader initiates the automatic transmission of a unique identification and security code to the Speedpass payment system so your account can be located. Your payment is instantly processed using the credit/debit card that is linked to your Speedpass”. (Exxon Mobile Corporation).
RFID technologies are being used by many industries for many different specific puposes. A few of the industries using RFID technology include: retail, manufacturing, airline, and farming. Although, generally speaking RFID technology is usually adopted by businesses to create efficiencies, for convenience, or for security. RFID is still considered too expensive to be used for certain applications right now. According to Barcoding Incorporated: “RFID tags can cost as little as 50 cents or as much as $50 depending on the type of tag, the application and the volume of the order. Generally speaking, finished smart labels that can be applied to cases and pallets typically cost 50 cents or more, depending on volume. Active tags - those with a battery - can cost far more. And if you bundle in a sophisticated sensor, the cost can rise to more than $100 per tag” ( Barcoding Incorporated).
However, RFID technology's cost has been decreasing and in the future it will potentially be able to be used in many applications that are not cost effective today. Furthermore, RFID technology offers many advantages over traditional barcodes such as: “(1) Items can be oriented in any direction as long as it is in the read range, and direct line of sight is never required. (2) High read rate (>100) tags can be read simultaneously. (3) RFID systems are automated, and have read/write capability” (Atlas RFID Solutions, Inc).
RFID technology has created a lot of controversy regarding privacy issues over the years. Much of the controversy is related to RFID technology potentially being used on unknowing consumers to track them and/or collect data on them. Those that are against RFID technology argue and fear that RFID tags data can be stolen (hacked), and the RFID tags “can be misused to track and collect data on an individual” (Lui, 2010).
In conclusion, the future of RFID technology looks very promising given the staggering amount of possible applications. Moreover, as RFID continues to advance and the size and cost of the tags continue to decrease the higher the chance this technology has to completely replace traditional barcodes. Furthermore, as more businesses begin to adopt this technology to create efficiencies the more likely that consumers will begin to see more of this technology in use directly effecting their shopping, and purchasing experience.
Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility. (n.d.) What is RFID? AIM. Retrieved December 14, 2010, from: http://www.aimglobal.org/technologies/RFID/what_is_rfid.asp
Atlas RFID Solutions, Inc. (n.d.). RFID vs. Barcode. Atlas RFID Solutions. Retrieved December 14, 2010 from: http://www.atlasrfid.com/Technology/RFIDvsBarcode.aspx
Barcoding Incorporated. (n.d.). How Much Does an RFID Tag Cost? Barcoding Inc. Retrieved December 14, 2010 from: http://www.barcoding.com/faq/rfid-tag-cost.shtml
Exxon Mobile Corporation. (n.d.). How It Works: Technology. Speedpass. Retrieved December 14, 2010 from: https://www.speedpass.com/forms/frmHowItWorks.aspx?pPg=howTech.htm&pgHeader=how
Lui, Spandas. (2010). RFID: Protection, privacy, and prevention. ARN. Retrieved December 14, 2010 from: http://www.arnnet.com.au/article/370302/rfid_protection_privacy_preven.....1382389953
Wolverton, Joe. (2010). WalMart to Embed RFID Tags in Clothing Beginning August 1. New American. Retreived December 16, 2010 from: http://www.thenewamerican.com/index.php/tech-mainmenu-30/computers/415.....g-august-1
Put together very well. So if we all go out and steal from Walmart, it will make it cost effective for them to implement and even help this technology. A joke of course, but unfortunately true. Most technology comes from necessity.
The medical field is probably using much of this technology, coupled with micro technology.
You spoke of the negative side of this. It's potentual to harm is so much greater than just tracking us.
Military weapons applications are not so slow in intergrating this tech.
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