RFID technology is becoming more widespread in everyday life. If you’ve used a transport pass, bought security-tagged clothes, or even borrowed a library book, chances are that you’ve encountered RFID technology without realising it.
An RFID transponder, or “tag”, consists of a microchip that can store a small amount of data, and an antenna that can transmit this via radio waves over a short distance to an RFID reader. An active RFID tag also contains a battery and can transmit a signal, but is more expensive, while RFID passive tags contain no battery, are cheaper, but need to be activated by a reader in order to access the data stored on them. Most everyday RFID applications use RFID passive tags.
Many transit pass systems (e.g. Washington’s SmarTrip, London’s Oyster card) use embedded RFID tags to store balance details which are updated when swiped at an exit gate, or when the card is topped up. Similarly, many toll systems offer some form of “easypass” for barrier-free tolling, where drivers mount an RFID tag on their dashboard which is read as they pass through the toll, allowing them to be billed later. A growing number of countries are including RFID chips in passports to allow for the storage of additional information such as biometric data.
Libraries have begun to replace barcodes with RFID passive tags. These can directly store information such as a book’s title, author, or category without the need to refer to a separate database. The RFID tag can also act as a security tag, replacing the need for a separate security system.
Modern RFID passive tags can be mass-produced cheaply enough to be used disposably. Tagging goods allows them to be tracked through inventory management systems all the way from manufacture to point of sale.
Pets can be “chipped” by their owners with RFID tags containing the owner contact details to help identify them if they are lost. The chips can also be used to maintain health details like vaccinations dates. Nature programs can tag animals and birds to help determine migration patterns and track individual animals.
Smart labels have RFID passive tagsembedded between the printed label and the adhesive backing. They can be used like barcodes, but hold more information, and the stored data can be updated.
As technological developments allow RFID tags to be further miniaturised and produced even more cheaply, their use will become even more common in everyday society.