What are RFID�s by FeSlQa


									    Radio Frequency
IDentification Technology

          Kaylee Pfennig
         Matthew Revelle
         Rebekah Saxon

             BA 471
           Spring 2006
           Dr. Reitsma

        New emerging technology is changing the way companies and consumers do

business. This technology is called RFID, or radio frequency identification. These tags

are a way for businesses to track products through the supply chain from beginning to

end. RFID tags contain a small tracking device and use radio frequency waves to

transmit information to a central information system. They help detour theft, increase

productive inventory practices, reduce costs associated with inventory and tracking.

        RFID tags have been used to track products, vehicles, livestock, and individuals.

There are many potential uses for RFID technology, beyond tracking of products. These

growth opportunities will depend on the cost of the RFID tags, and privacy issues

currently facing RFID technology.

        Finally, as with any new technology there is always controversy. With the RFID

tags many individuals feel that their freedom and individuality will be taken away. RFID

tags could be another way that technology will increase and meet the demands of our fast

pace lifestyle.


       Technology is a rapidly changing and fast pace industry. One small part of

technology that has been changing the world since the 1970s is the RFID tag. RFID is

known to increase productivity, convenience, and can be used for thousands of

applications. RFID technology can be used in just about any product and can carry and

store large amounts of data. However with such broad usage, RFID tags are also creating

controversy. The following pages include background information on RFID tags, current

and possible future uses for RFID technology, and discuss some critical controversy

surrounding the use of RFID tags.


       During the 1800s English experimentalists started to understand electromagnetic

energy. In the early 1900s the first continuous radio wave was generated by Ernst F.W.

Alexanderson. His achievements signaled the beginning of the current radio

communication. In the 1950s RFID techniques followed developments from radio and

radar technology. Long range transponder systems were being used in aircrafts, and were

called “identification, friend or foe” or IFF.

       The major growth of the RFID tag took place during the 1970s. Companies such

as Sensormatic and Checkpoint developed electronic article surveillance (AIM) tags that

were used to track theft. These systems used either microwave or induction technology

and were considered to be the first and most common type of commercial use of RFID.

These tag continued to grow in popularity and uses, from highway systems to retail. The

data in Figure 1 is a representation of the timeline of development of RFID technology.

Figure 1. History of RFID
Decade          Event
1940 - 1950     Radar refined and used major World War II development effort.
                RFID invented in 1948.
1950 - 1960     Early explorations of RFID technology, laboratory experiments.
1960 - 1970     Development of the theory of RFID.
                Start of applications field trials.
1970 - 1980     Explosion of RFID development.
                Tests of RFID accelerate.
                Very early adopter implementations of RFID.
1980 - 1990     Commercial applications of RFID enter mainstream.
1990 - 2000     Emergence of standards.
                RFID widely deployed.
                RFID becomes a part of everyday life.

What is RFIDs

       Radio frequency identification, or RFID, is a broad term that is used for radio

waves that are able to automatically identify people or objects.    The RFID system

contains three components; an antenna or a coil, a transceiver with decoder, and a

transponder or RF tag which is electronically programmed with unique information. The

current RFID technology has been around since the 1970s. However, the technology was

very expensive and hardly ever used. The most common way to use RFID technology is

to store a serial number that identifies a person or object and other information on a

microchip attached to an antenna. Various different companies and organizations use

most of current RFID technology for tracking objects and persons. As RFID technology

becomes more standard, it will be used more to track goods in the supply chain of

companies. The goal of RFID tags is to reduce administrative and shipping errors, labor

costs associated with bar codes, theft, and to calculate inventory quickly. (AIM)

How RFIDs Work

        RFIDs are actually a very simple piece of technology. The reader sends a radio

wave signal to activate the tag and then is able to read or write data onto the tag. The

transceiver controls the system’s data and communication lines. The antenna is packaged

with the transceiver and a decoder, which becomes the reader. The reader also emits a

radio wave that can be tracked from one inch to more than 100ft, depending on the

frequency used.     When an RFID tag passes the electromagnetic zone, the reader’s

activation signal is detected and the information is then passed to the host computer for

further processing. (RFID Journal, 2005 A) Figure 2 gives a detailed picture of how the

RFID system works.

Figure 2. RFID Process

 Picture obtained from:

       There are two main types of RFID tags; active and passive. Active tags are

powered by internal batteries and are typically only used for data that can be written,

rewritten, or modified. The active tag’s memory size varies according to application;

some operate with up to 1MB of memory. The battery power on an active tag allows for

a longer reading range, larger size, but has greater costs, and limited operational life,

usually a maximum of ten years. A passive RFID tag operates with an external power

source, typically emanating from the reader. These tags are lighter, less expensive, and

have an unlimited lifetime. However, the passive tags have shorter read ranges and

require a higher powered reader. The passive tags are programmed with smaller amount

of data and cannot be changed. (RFID Journal, 2005 B)

       RFID tags can be categorized by their frequency levels: low-frequency and high-

frequency. Low-frequency tags are only 30 KHz to 500 KHz. They have a short reading

range and are less expensive. They are most commonly used in security access, asset

tracking, and animal identification applications. High-frequency ranges from 850 MHz

to 950 MHz and from 2.4 to 2.5 GHz. They offer longer reading rangers, higher speeds,

but cost more. High-frequency tags are used for such applications as railroad car tracking

and automated toll collection (RFID Journal)

       The main advantage of all types of RFID systems is the non-contact, non-line-of-

sight nature of the technology. Tags can be read through a variety of substances such as

snow, fog, ice, paint, crusted grime, and other visually and environmentally challenging

conditions, where barcodes or other optically read technologies would be useless. RFID

tags can also be read in challenging circumstances at remarkable speeds, in most cases

responding in less than 100 milliseconds. The read/write capability of an active RFID

system is also a significant advantage in interactive applications such as work-in-process

or maintenance tracking. Though it is a costlier technology (compared to the barcode),

RFID has become indispensable for a wide range of automated data collection and

identification applications that would not be possible otherwise.

       Developments in RFID technology continue to yield larger memory capacities,

wider reading ranges, and faster processing. It is highly unlikely that the technology will

ultimately replace barcode, even with the inevitable reduction in the need for raw

materials coupled with economies of scale. The integrated circuit in an RF tag will never

be as cost-effective as a barcode label. However, RFID will continue to grow in its

established niches where barcode or other optical technologies are not effective. If some

standards commonality is achieved whereby RFID equipment from different

manufacturers can be used interchangeably the market will very likely grow

exponentially. (AIM, 2001)

Costs of RFID

       Costs of each individual tag depend on how many tags are being purchased, the

amount of memory that is needed to be held on the tag, and the packaging of the tag.

Current tag prices range from 20-40 U.S. cents per tag. If a bar code is needed to be

printed out using the tag, the costs rises about 40 cents. Suppliers to companies such as

Wal-Mart which are dealing with bulk amounts of RFID tags, are able to take advantage

of cheaper tag costs. (RFID Journal, 2005) The data in the Figure 3 shows that RFID

sales are forecasted to continue to grow through 2007.

Figure 3: Future RFID Growth Market

Current Uses of RFID Tags

        RFIDs are used in a multitude of places and applications from the medical to the

business world and even livestock.      In the medical world, they are used to locate

equipment and personal within the hospital, as well as keeping an accurate record of

inventory such as blood and medicines that are on stock. RFID tags are also beginning to

be used on foster children to keep their medical history with them and up to date, so that

a doctor will always have the child’s medical history available when the children are

arriving at a hospital.

        The most common application of RFIDs is with inventory.            The inventory

information stored in the RFID tag allows the store to have a continuously updated

inventory list of what is in stock, allowing them to order what is needed, more accurately

and precisely. RFID tags help reduce inventory cost and improve efficiency. (RFID

Journal, 2005) Wal-Mart just claimed a 1.5% drop in inventory costs due to RFID

technology. (Wal-Mart, 2005) It also deters theft since RFID tags allow one to track the

merchandise through the store.

        In the supply chain, RFIDs enable tracking of merchandise as it travels down the

chain. By placing an RFID tag in the pallets of products, suppliers do not have to unpack

the shipment to see what arrived as the tag carries all the information of what is on the

pallet, reducing inventory time significantly. RFID tags are also playing a role in the

reverse supply chain; allowing companies to know what exactly is in each product and

how to dispose of each component correctly, thereby, reducing the time and money

needed when disposing products after use.        Since, many companies are striving to

become more economical and sustainable; RFID tags are a great way to aid in the reverse

supply chain process. (AIM-Global, 2005)

       In regards to RFID tags and maintenance, by tagging items, individuals can track

equipment parts, for example; a tags placed on parts within a plane can keep a detailed

record of inspection dates and times, problems and responses to those problems, all

reduce the time and cost of doing continual maintenance. (AIM-Global, 2005)

       In the field of livestock, RFID tags can track animals individually, giving each

animal a personal number. By having the ability to differentiate between the animals, it

is possible to know which animals have received shots, medications, treatments, and

which have not, reducing medical costs from errors and duplication.         In addition,

veterinarians and owners are able to know the exact number of animals they are

responsible for.   After the Mad Cow Disease scare, it is important to know the

background information on different cows, including where they came from and what

types of drugs and feed they were administered. Through RFID tags, it is possible to

track a single cow through all of its owners, which is important when trying to find the

source of the disease. RFID tags are already used in household pets as a tracking device.

When a lost pet is picked up or dropped off at the humanity society or pound, they have

the technology to scan the RFID tag and pick up the information and contact the pet’s

owner. (RFID Gazette)

        Another major application of RFID tags is in the area of POS (Point-of-Sale), or

more specifically cashless checkout. Already being offered at gas stations and subway

stations, with RFIDs, individuals are able to pass by sensors or wave the RFID tag by the

reader and the costs are automatically charged to an account encrypted on the RFID tag.

With the introduction of RFID tags on consumer products, when done shopping

customers can walk out the door without going through a standard checkout, the tag

readers at the door would scan everything in the cart and then charge automatically to the

account on the tag, creating a wait free, cashless checkout. (Economist, 2003)

       The last major application of RFID tags is security. RFID tags have been used to

allow security clearance and access to restricted areas within buildings, both office and

military. The advantage is that a person only needs to hold up a badge attached to a tag,

rather then finding a key or card to swipe, thus providing convenience as well as less

wear, tear, and maintenance. RFID tags are also in cars. The RFID tag is in the key and

without the key in close proximity, the car will not start. Since RFID security technology

was introduced in Europe in 1994, they have had a significantly reduced auto theft.

(RFID Gazette, 2005)

       Tags can be attached to equipment containing sensitive materials such as laptops

within an office building or weapons in military depots, and if the products are removed

from the building without authorization, an alarm with sound, alerting security. The

military is a heavy user of RFID tags. They are placed on all armed vehicles, and are

embedded in bracelets warn by individuals for allowing an easy way to track and find

both vehicles and people when needed.

Possible Uses of RFID Tags

       In the future, there are many possibilities for RFID tags; some seeming more

science fiction then reality, but all are possible. RFID tags play a role in a large array of

products, medical uses, safety, and improving reverse supply chains. In the area of

products, there has been talk about the creation of intelligent appliances such as washing

machines, refrigerators, even pantries.

        By reading the tags in your clothing, the washing machine could wash the

clothes, according to the materials and fabrics, and inform consumers if they have mixed

the wrong kinds of clothing. The refrigerator could read the information on the food

items and determine when a product is low, such as milk or if something is going to

expire. The information read by the refrigerator could also be used to create a grocery

list for the owner. In addition, the RFID tag would have the ability to give ideas, recipes

for cooking determined by how much, and what types of food available in a household.

There is talk of using tags to replace keys, when a person walks up to their car or home,

the lights would turn on, the doors unlocks, alarms would turn off, all without getting any

keys out. (RFID Journal)

       RFID tags could be used in the creation of interactive toys. When the tag in a toy

gets close to a reader, it could respond it and change directions, move around, or

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something to that extent, allowing it to interact as it reads other tags. Parents could use

RFID tags to keep track of children in crowded areas and if the children run off, parents

would be able to easily track them down by the information on the RFID tag. (AIM-

Global, 2005)

        RFID tags can be used to prevent counterfeiting in both medical and retail.

Having the correct tag would tell if the product is genuine or fake. Counterfeit drugs can

be dangerous and it is estimated that eight to ten percent of all drugs in the global supply

chain are counterfeit. RFIDs could also be used as a form of identification, making

identity theft more difficult. Tiny tags could be placed on medical equipment so that if

someone tries to put the wrong tube in a catheter, for example, it would alert them, or

warn doctors if they are going to use a drug on a the patient, which is allergic to or that

try using un-sterilized instruments in surgery. (RFID Journal, 2005)

        Another plan for RFID tags is to use them to monitor products for safety reasons.

Tire companies would like to implement RFID tags into their tires, so that when the air in

a tire starts to get low or a problem is detected, the tag can inform the owner before an

accident occurs. Also, when a company has to recall a certain batch of products, it can

track down all of the products by using RFID tags, instead of going through the process

of a full recall. The tags allow a company to see where the bad batch was sent to and who

purchased them, allowing a limited recall. This would save manufacturing companies in

the end, if a recall occurred.

        All of the future implications of RFID tags have been in the works for sometime,

slowly gaining support from manufactures, suppliers, and consumers.             Potentially

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everything could be equipped with some sort of RFID technology reducing the amount of

paperwork and speeding up everyday processes.


       Although RFID technology presents many advantages, certain concerns pose a

threat to RFID’s future. The controversies facing the technology can be broken down

into four main concerns: the purchaser of an item not necessarily being aware of the tag

or having the ability to remove it, the tag being read without the knowledge of individual,

the identity and privacy of the purchaser remaining safe, and the use of unnecessary

applications (RFID Journal, 2005).

       One controversy is what to do with the information on the tag once the item has

been purchased. Technically, the functional ability of the RFID tag cannot be changed

after the purchase of the product. In the business world, the RFID tag is primarily used

as a way of monitoring the supply chain. Once that process is over, the tag no longer has

a purpose, but is still capable of transmitting data.       This can allow for unwanted

surveillance leading to an invasion of privacy and identity theft.

       Another purpose of the RFID tag is to carry product information that a business

can then later use to create a demographic of the customers purchasing its products. At

the time of purchase, the personal information of the purchaser is transmitted onto the tag

including credit card numbers, addresses, and names, along with where the items are

purchased. This information can easily establish a person’s social network, creating a

risk to the consumer’s privacy. A potential problem or area of concern with RFID tags

would be if an unauthorized person were able to get a hold of a scanner or reader and

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could then pick up and read valuable and important personal information. This would be

a complete invasion of an individual’s privacy. A high-gain antenna is all that is needed

to read an RFID tag and depending on the strength of the antenna, tags have the potential

to be read from up to twenty-five feet away (RFID Gazette, 2005). Therefore, it is

important for consumers to understand the risk associated with RFID tags. Consumers

should know which products carry and which do not have RFID technology.

          One way for companies to reduce this risk of invasion would be to disable the

RFID tag once it has been scanned through the system. Therefore, only the company

would have the information from these tags and eavesdropping would no longer pose a

threat.    Some companies, such as Wal-Mart and Gillette, are already using this

technology. Gillette has implemented this identification device within its razor blades

allowing the company to gain important information while maintaining the privacy of

their customers.

          Current RFID developments have been used around the world. Many countries

have jumped on board using these tags within their citizens’ personal identification cards

such as passports, divers’ licenses, and other forms of identification to increase the

efficiency of personal data and security. Malaysia, Norway, New Zealand, and France

are all examples of countries that have taken this new security system up within this past

year and many are still to come. This is not to say that this implementation has been easy

for any of these countries. In fact, all have had to deal with their respective citizens

feeling at risk of identity theft and privacy invasion, especially with the lack of

information being provided to those receiving the product.

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       Another concern with RFID technology is that it may take away consumer

individuality. Personally, and from the class discussion, it seems obvious that these tags

are somewhat dehumanizing.         The idea of “smart” clothes and “smart” washing

machines, although very practical and technologically advanced, take away from those

small things that make us feel human. We are not robots and many things should remain

in the hands (literally) of humans and outside the reach of our technology. We believe

that this is the main reason that RFIDs have yet to make it big in the world. It is because

deep down, all people do not want this invasion into our personal lives by another piece

of technology that only makes us more mechanical than human.

Class Discussion

       The main thing discussed during our in-class presentations was students concern

about privacy. Students felt that having RFID tags in place on objects would be a

significant invasion of privacy, and did not feel they needed these extra benefits of the

RFID tags.


       RFID technology has been around for many years, and has become increasingly

popular over the last ten years. The simple little device is easy to place onto any product,

including, livestock and humans.      With many current uses, mainly tracking, RFID

technology has been improving the efficiency of the supply chain, especially managing

inventory, increasing productivity within corporations, and improving overall tracking

and control procedures. All of these have benefits to the end consumer.

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       With the hopes that RFID tag prices will decrease in the coming years, more

products will have RFID technology in place. In the future, maybe every item will have

RFID technology. However, consumer are concerned with more the tags are out there,

how will it effect consumers privacy. If the wrong person was to get their hands on a

transceiver, what implications could occur?      Will this controversy slow down the

development of the RFID tags? It is hard to say for sure, some think it will, since human

safety has become a large concern for many. Nonetheless, RFID tags are a wonderful

invention, if used properly and implemented correctly, certain products and services

would greatly benefit.

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Work Cited

AIM (2001). Shrouds of Time-The history of RFID. AIM Publication. Available:

AIM-Global (2005). Common Applications; Availiable:

Economist (2003). The Best Thing Since the Barcode. The Economist, 57-58.

RFID Journal (2005 A). The Cost of RFID Equipment; Available:

RFID Journal (2005 B). General RFID Information; Available:

RFID Gazette (2005). Radio Frequency Identification news and commentary; Available:
http://www.rfidgazett e.org/applications/index.html

Wal-Mart (2005). Wal-Mart's Electronic Product Code Implementation Off To A
Positive Start; Available:

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