Is RFID in Your Future? - Page 2

By Beth Cohen | Posted Jun 3, 2003
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What Is It?

First emerging in the 1980s, RFID was originally used to track objects in harsh industrial environments where barcodes were unusable. At a basic level, it is the process of storing and retrieving data from integrated circuits or chips using radio frequency transmissions. Companies and industries might use RFID to locate, identify, and track inventories or any type of physical objects. The three components to a functional RFID system are the data warehouse application, which manages the collected data; the transceiver (or reader), which scans and captures the tag data; and the transponders (e.g. tags), which contain the data.

The data warehouse application can be any of the large or small databases or supply-chain systems available on the market today. You can purchase highly specialized inventory databases for specific vertical industries or, like Gillette, use RFID as one component in a corporate-wide ERP initiative. If you have a very specialized application, you can even write your own because the data collection methodology is completely standards-based.

The second component, the transceiver, is the system intermediary that reads the tags and uploads the data to the application. The newer readers like the just announced Handheld Reader by Matrics can read up to two hundred tags per second at a 10-foot range. "This new Handheld Reader is especially suited for high-value retail -- especially store floor inventories and backroom inventories -- high density environments requiring rapid read rates and long range," states Piyush Sodha, Matrics CEO.

Think of the RFID transponder as a form of electronic barcode. The tag itself can either be passive -- one that only responds when a transmitter station activates it -- or it can continually and actively broadcast its information to any receiver available. As CopyTag, a transponder manufacturer, writes, "The passive RFID transponder contains no batteries and is designed to be disposable. The Active RFID transponder is hermetically sealed in housing designed to tolerate harsh environmental conditions and will last many years; some active RFID transponders have replaceable batteries. The permanently programmed code is unique, counterfeit-proof, and cannot be modified or deleted. Thus, each RFID transponder is completely maintenance free and, in principle, has an unlimited life span."

Passive transponders include magnetic stripe cards, smart cards, and optical cards. These transponders are extremely inexpensive "throwaway" devices that are heavily used in the hotel industry for electronic keys, Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS), and real-time location tracking systems. Hitachi Europe has developed a smart tag chip that is just 0.3mm square and as thin as a human hair -- small enough and cheap enough to put it into banknotes! Typically, these are used to alert someone of the unauthorized removal of items from a store, library, or data center.

The more costly and higher maintenance active transponders are used in Real Time Locating Systems (RTLS) and other applications where the targeted assets and personnel move. An RTLS solution typically utilizes battery-operated radio tags and a cellular locating system to detect the presence and location of the tags. RFID offers certain advantages over hard-wired systems -- interactivity and real-time updates of inventory, shipments, or manufacturing applications -- that companies could turn to their own competitive advantage.

Page 3: What Is It Good For?

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