Did you ever wear an LED wristband at a concert? Those LED wristbands precisely track the rhythm of the music and change the color of their lights accordingly to create the perfect vibe. If you have ever been to Manhattan or Boston, you would have likely used a MetroCard or a CharlieCard that lets you tap to pay for transit fares. What about Apple Pay or Google Pay that also lets you tap on the payment terminal instead of swiping your credit card? The term "RFID" may sound unfamiliar to most people, but it is the foundational technology that enables all of those innovations deeply integrated with our daily lives.
Nowadays, it is somewhat of an uncommon sight to see people who pay for local transit fares with cash compared to decade years ago. This is due to the use of a payment processing system where individuals can tag their metro cards on a terminal and have the bus fare automatically deducted with a "beep" sound.
The technology behind such transactions is called RFID, which stands for Radio-Frequency Identification. This technology allows for the reading of information over long distances using radio waves. In order to utilize this technology, an RFID reader (such as a transportation card terminal for buses) is required.
Components of the RFID System
There are 4 components to the RFID System: RFID Tag, antenna, reader, and server.
RFID tag consists of an IC chip, or integrated circuit chip, that contains a microprocessor and memory. An IC chip is used to store information about an object or a person that is being tracked or identified using radio waves. RFID tags can be categorized into active and passive types based on whether or not it has a power source.
Antenna plays a role in transmitting and receiving data. It can be made in various sizes and is an important factor in determining the shape of the tag.
RFID reader, also known as RFID interrogator, is a device used to read and retrieve information from the RFID tag. The reader uses radio frequency technology to communicate with RFID tags. Depending on its purpose, it can be classified as fixed, mobile, or portable.
- Fixed RFID Readers: Fixed RFID readers are designed to be permanently installed in a specific location, such as entry points, conveyor belts, or warehouse gates. They are typically connected to a power source and a network infrastructure. Fixed readers provide a stable and continuous reading capability, often with a longer read range and higher read accuracy. They are suitable for applications that require consistent and automated RFID data capture in a fixed location.
- Mobile RFID Readers: Mobile RFID readers are handheld devices that offer mobility. They are battery-powered and often come with integrated barcode scanners or other data-capturing functionalities. Mobile readers are suitable for applications that require mobility, such as inventory management, asset tracking, or retail environments. They allow users to move around and capture RFID data from multiple locations within a facility or in the field.
- Portable RFID Readers: Portable RFID readers are compact, lightweight devices that offer maximum portability. They are similar to mobile readers but typically have a smaller form factor and reduced functionality. Portable readers are convenient for on-the-go RFID data collection tasks or situations where carrying a larger device may be impractical. They are suitable for applications like event management, file tracking, or short-term inventory audits.
The server plays a role in managing distributed reader systems.
International standards have been established to ensure RFID compatibility, with the two most common types being TYPE A and TYPE B, both operating at a frequency of 13.56Hz. In the United States, RFID is commonly used in contactless payment systems, such as mobile wallets and smart cards. These systems utilize RFID technology operating at a frequency of 13.56 MHz, which adheres to international standards like ISO/IEC 14443 Type A and Type B.
Pros and Cons of the RFID System
The advantages of RFID systems over barcodes that record tags with simple black or white shading are the ability to record diverse and extensive information. RFID systems also have the ability to assign a unique serial number when attached to individual products. RFID tags are also superior in that they can be used semi-permanently and repeatedly, and it can be said that their data reliability is high.
However, the drawbacks of RFID systems include high cost, incompatibility due to different frequencies used in different countries, and lower security due to the ability to read information from a distance via radio waves. This raises concerns about privacy invasion and tracking of attached tags, such as ID cards from a distance using antennas. Therefore, caution must be exercised when using the RFID system. Additionally, due to the limited range of applications, there are not many places where this system can be used.
Future Application of RFID
The RFID technology is currently being used in a wide range of fields. It is widely used for recognizing and storing personal information through tags attached to transportation cards, highway passes, passports, and identification cards.
In the US, Delta Airlines implemented an innovative RFID-based baggage tracking system to improve the efficiency and accuracy of baggage handling. RFID tags are attached to passenger bags, enabling real-time tracking as bags move through various stages of the baggage handling process. This technology significantly reduces the chances of lost or mishandled bags and enhances operational efficiency. In 2010, South Korea pioneered the use of RFID chips on liquor bottles to authenticate them. By scanning the bottles with smartphones equipped with RFID readers integrated into their U-SIM cards, consumers could verify the genuineness of the liquor. This system allowed Korea to effectively combat counterfeit liquor in the market. In Japan, tags are affixed to the bags and clothing of elementary school students, serving as identification for building access control.
RFID technology is widely utilized across various industries, with a potential for future expansion. In the retail sector, RFID tags offer opportunities for improved inventory management, reduced theft, and personalized customer experiences. These applications demonstrate the ongoing expansion and evolving potential of RFID technology in our everyday lives.
In our upcoming blog post, we will explore the success story of ZARA, a fashion industry leader, and their pioneering use of RFID tag technology. We'll dive into how they have seamlessly integrated RFID technology across product design, inventory management, and post-delivery store management. Stay tuned!
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