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History and technology background


An RFID tag can be affixed to an object and used to track and manage inventory, assets, people, etc. For example, it can be affixed to cars, computer equipment, books, mobile phones, etc.

In social media, RFID is being used to tie the physical world with the virtual world. RFID in Social Media first came to light in 2010 with Facebook's annual conference

RFID offers advantages over manual systems or use of bar codes. The tag can be read if passed near a reader, even if it is covered by the object or not visible. The tag can be read inside a case, carton, box or other container, and unlike barcodes RFID tags can be read hundreds at a time. Bar codes can only be read one at a time.

In 2011, the cost of passive tags started at US$0.05 each; special tags, meant to be mounted on metal or withstand gamma sterilization, can go up to US$5. Active tags for tracking containers, medical assets, or monitoring environmental conditions in data centers start at US$50 and can go up over US$100 each. Battery Assisted Passive (BAP) tags are in the US$3–10 range and also have sensor capability like temperature and humidity. RFID can be used in a variety of applications, such as:

· Access management

· Tracking of goods

· Tracking of persons and animals

· Toll collection and contactless payment

· Machine readable travel documents

· Smartdust (for massively distributed sensor networks)

· Tracking sports memorabilia to verify authenticity

· Airport baggage tracking logistics


A radio-frequency identification system uses tags, also known as labels attached to the objects to be identified. Two-way radio transmitter-receivers called interrogators or readers send a signal to the tag and read its response. The readers generally transmit their observations to a computer system running RFID software or RFID middleware.

The tag's information is stored electronically in a non-volatile memory. The RFID tag includes a small RF transmitter and receiver. An RFID reader transmits an encoded radio signal to interrogate the tag. The tag receives the message and responds with its identification information. This may be only a unique tag serial number, or may be product-related information such as a stock number, lot or batch number, production date, or other specific information.

RFID tags can be either passive, active or battery assisted passive. An active tag has an on-board battery that periodically transmits its ID signal. A battery assisted passive (BAP) has a small battery on board that is activated when in the presence of a RFID reader. A passive tag is cheaper and smaller because it has no battery. Instead, the tag uses the radio energy transmitted by the reader as its energy source. The interrogator must be close for RF field to be high enough to transfer enough power to the tag. Since tags have individual serial numbers, the RFID system design can discriminate several tags that might be within the range of the RFID reader and read them simultaneously.

Tags may either be read-only, having a factory-assigned serial number that is used as a key into a database, or may be read/write, where object-specific data can be written into the tag by the system user. Field programmable tags may be write-once, read-multiple; "blank" tags may be written with an electronic product code by the user.

RFID tags contain at least two parts: an integrated circuit for storing and processing information, modulating and demodulating a radio-frequency (RF) signal, collecting DC power from the incident reader signal, and other specialized functions; and an antenna for receiving and transmitting the signal.

Fixed readers are set up to create a specific interrogation zone which can be tightly controlled. This allows a highly defined reading area for when tags go in and out of the interrogation zone. Mobile readers may be hand-held or mounted on carts or vehicles.

Signalling between the reader and the tag is done in several different incompatible ways, depending on the frequency band used by the tag. Tags operating on LF and HF frequencies are, in terms of radio wavelength, very close to the reader antenna, less than one wavelength away. In this near field region, the tag is closely coupled electrically with the transmitter in the reader. The tag can modulate the field produced by the reader by changing the electrical loading the tag represents. By switching between lower and higher relative loads, the tag produces a change that the reader can detect. At UHF and higher frequencies, the tag is more than one radio wavelength from the reader. The tag can backscatter a signal. Active tags may contain functionally separated transmitters and receivera, and the tag need not respond on a freqeuncy related to the reader's interrogation signal.

An Electronic Product Code (EPC) is one common type of data stored in a tag. When written into the tag by an RFID printer, the tag contains a 96-bit string of data. The first eight bits are a header which identifies the version of the protocol. The next 28 bits identify the organization that manages the data for this tag; the organization number is assigned by the EPCGlobal consortium. The next 24 bits are an object class, identifying the kind of product; the last 36 bits are a unique serial number for a particular tag. These last two fields are set by the organization that issued the tag. Rather like a URL, the total electronic product code number can be used as a key into a global database to uniquely identify a particular product.

Often more than one tag will respond to a tag reader, for example, many individual products with tags may be shipped in a common box or on a common pallet. Collision detection is important to allow reading of data. Two different types of protocols are used to "singulate" a particular tag, allowing its data to be read in the midst of many similar tags. In a slotted Aloha system, the reader broadcasts an initialization command and a parameter that the tags individually use to pseudo-randomly delay their responses. When using an "adaptive binary tree" protocol, the reader sends an intialization symbol and then transmits one bit of ID data at a time; only tags with matching bits respond, and eventually only one tag matches the complete ID string.

An example of a binary tree method of idenfiying an RFID tag.Both methods have drawbacks when used with many tags or with multiple overlapping readers.

History and technology background

In 1945 Léon Theremin invented an espionage tool for the Soviet Union which retransmitted incident radio waves with audio information. Sound waves vibrated a diaphragm which slightly altered the shape of the resonator, which modulated the reflected radio frequency. Even though this device was a covert listening device, not an identification tag, it is considered to be a predecessor of RFID technology, because it was likewise passive, being energized and activated by waves from an outside source.

Similar technology, such as the IFF transponder developed in the United Kingdom, was routinely used by the allies in World War II to identify aircraft as friend or foe. Transponders are still used by most powered aircraft to this day. Another early work exploring RFID is the landmark 1948 paper by Harry Stockman, titled "Communication by Means of Reflected Power" (Proceedings of the IRE, pp 1196–1204, October 1948). Stockman predicted that "... considerable research and development work has to be done before the remaining basic problems in reflected-power communication are solved, and before the field of useful applications is explored."

Mario Cardullo's device, patented on January 23, 1973, was the first true ancestorof modern RFID, as it was a passive radio transponder with memory. The initial device was passive, powered by the interrogating signal, and was demonstrated in 1971 to the New York Port Authority and other potential users and consisted of a transponder with 16 bit memory for use as a toll device. The basic Cardullo patent covers the use of RF, sound and light as transmission media. The original business plan presented to investors in 1969 showed uses in transportation (automotive vehicle identification, automatic toll system, electronic license plate, electronic manifest, vehicle routing, vehicle performance monitoring), banking (electronic check book, electronic credit card), security (personnel identification, automatic gates, surveillance) and medical (identification, patient history).

An early demonstration of reflected power (modulated backscatter) RFID tags, both passive and semi-passive, was performed by Steven Depp, Alfred Koelle, and Robert Freyman at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1973. The portable system operated at 915 MHz and used 12-bit tags. This technique is used by the majority of today's UHFID and microwave RFID tags. The first patent to be associated with the abbreviation RFID was granted to Charles Walton in 1983.

The largest deployment of active RFID is the US Department of Defense use of Savi active tags on every one of its more than a million shipping containers that travel outside of the continental United States. The largest passive RFID deployment is the enterprise-wide deployment performed by Wal Mart which instrumented over 2800 retail stores with over 25,000 reader systems, however the exact number is considered 'corporate confidential'.


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