RFID (radio frequency identification) chips or tags as they are better known are the size of the smallest coin in your pocket, but they can store huge amounts of data that can be manipulated in methods that can do incredible things.
For example, RFID tags are in most office identity tags and in a few passports, allowing the holder to pass through security quickly while keeping the building or the country safe.
They are a modern version of the bar code. Remember before bar codes and bar code readers? When a shop assistant had to key prices into the cash register, correct errors and look up prices that they could not remember? People do not have any time for that anymore.
It is OK at the newsagents, but picture a teenager typing in your two trolleys of weekly shopping at the superstore every Saturday. You would still be there on Sunday! Supermarkets have thousands of articles and dozens of special offers – no-one could remember that lot.
No-one could, but bar codes make it straightforward and so do RFID tags. Bar codes work well, but they have to be seen to be read. RFID tags send out their information on a unique frequency which can be read out of line of sight. In other words, an RFID scanner does not need to be able to see the tag to read it.
The scanner can read what is in your trolley without you having to empty it and as you pass by that scanner and pay for your goods, they are deducted from stock straight away so that the warehouse manger can see what people are buying and what nobody wants to buy. So, if one brand of cat food is selling better than another, the manager will see that on the computer print-out and buy more of that brand, thus keeping more people happy.
This use of RFID in stock control or asset management to give it its more official title, can translate itself into other uses too. An RFID tag can be put under your cat’s fur or in its collar so that you can locate him if he gets lost. The police and the wardens scan stray animals for a tag as part of their routine these days. Consevationists have been doing this with wild elephants, big cats and other endangered animals for years. Now you can have it done with your pets as well.
Company cars, as assets of the business, often have RFID tags and you can have one put in your car to aid recovery if it is stolen. Baggage handlers at airports or bus terminals can (and do) use them to prevent mislaying luggage.
The US government requires RFID tags be placed on all vehicles carrying explosives or hazardous substances and have done for almost ten years. The US military is in fact the biggest user of these tags in the world. RFID tags are used to track military assets such as armaments, battle tanks, fuel, containers, guns, you name it.
Some people worry about RFID technology. Where is the line between their convenience and their personal information? For example, they do not like getting junk emails from people that have been able to track the purchases they made with their credit cards.
Owen Jones, the author of this piece writes on several topics, but is currently involved with the RFID asset tracking. If you would like to know more, please go to our website at Active RFID Management.