How RFID Technology Works

Radio frequency identification (RFID) allows information to be transferred via radio waves, such as in our contactless cards. The technology is similar to barcodes, though unlike barcodes that are limited with their asset tracking, RFID scanners do not need to have line of sight with an actual barcode in order for data to be communicated.

The applications of this technology are impressive to say the least. For one, implementing an RFID system in a store essentially eliminates the need to stand in line. Since RFIDs communicate data wirelessly, shoppers in an RFID-enabled store can simply load their cart with the items they wish to purchase, and those items will alert the store. Next, their RFID chipped card informs the bank of their purchase, and they walk out the door without ever having to stand in line waiting for a cashier to scan your items with a barcode scanner.

While the technology is not widespread enough yet for this to be a reality, the day is fast approaching. Already RFID is used in thousands of different business applications and has far outgrown its origins in the cattle industry where it is used to track livestock. RFID is used in everything from low security applications such as contactless cards using just simple memory (these are often used in places like hotels as door keys for instance) and non-volatile memory structure all the way to the high end crypto-processor cards that have their own independent operating system allowing them to function and perform more complex tasks.

but you might be wondering how does this process actually work?

A Simple Guide to How RFID Technology Works

RFID technology is merely the communication between a tag (the RFID tag) and an RFID reader. The tag is a networked device that can write, receive and understand data via radio waves - similar to how a phone can be connected to your WIFI.

An RFID system can be relatively simple, or incredibly complex based on the applications it is being used for. For instance, many hotels use an RFID system so their patrons can open up their hotel doors using door keys. This simple function is made possible thanks to RFID technology.

In other cases, RFID technology could be used to track entire connexes of cargo, exactly what is inside the cargo, and how long it takes for that cargo to ship and land on the actual shelves of the business where it is planned to be sold.

At the end of the day though, RFID technology works by a reader sending out radio waves to the tag that receives the radio waves via its antenna then converts those radio waves into useful data.

The Components that Make RFID Technology Work

RFID is a subset to AIDC (Automatic Identification and Data Capture) technologies. AIDC uses the same principles as RFID in that it is just data communicating between various networked systems without human intervention - or very little.

While AIDC may use several different methods to accomplish this, the way RFID does it is in the name itself - radio waves. The networked system that the RFID is part of will send out its information to the RFID chip via the radio waves, and the antenna on the RFID will pick it up and translate the radio waves using the RFID reader, also sometimes called an Interrogator. 

In its essence, the RFID is composed of 3 main pieces of technology:

The Antenna:  The portion of the device that picks up the actual radio waves and the data that needs to be translated.

RFID Reader or Interrogator: This is the piece that reads the radio waves sent to the RFID, turning information into useful data and also storing the data on a computer system that can be monitored and analyzed. 

RFID Tag / Smart Label: Though sometimes referred to as Smart Labels, this is only in the case where a barcode is still being used on the actual product.  The RFID tag has an integrated circuit, antenna that communicates with the RFID reader and acts as a protective shield against the environment, typically made from a plastic.

There are two main types of RFID chips - Passive & Active.

Passive RFID

Passive RFIDs can typically be read by a reader up to 20 feet away. One thing to note about Passive RFIDs is that they have no actual power source. Instead when the RFID reader sends radio waves to the tag, a portion of the radio waves acts as the power source while the tag turns the data into whatever function it has been programmed to carry out.

Active RFID 

While passive RFIDs rely solely on their readers for power, an Active (or Semi-Passive) RFID has its own power source in the form of a battery attached to the actual chip. These kind of RFIDs, while a pricier option than passive RFIDs, provide an ability to read the actual chip from a much farther distance - up to over 300 feet if more batteries are added to increase the RFID’s range. 

Due to their cost, Active RFIDs is usually used on larger merchandise. This kind of merchandise could be cars, boats, or anything that is large either in physical size or in asset cost such as medical equipment. 

Regardless of whether you use Passive RFID or Active RFID, the technology is sweeping the world with its diverse applications. Once limited to just tracking cattle, RFID technology now stands at the forefront of truly revolutionizing not just business but the world at large as it new ways are being discovered to use the technology for medical reasons (such as storing a pet’s allergies in an implanted RFID chip).

As the RFID technology improves, the doors of opportunity that it can be used for will only keep opening ever wider.


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