A typical day at a shopping mall includes running up and down different aisles, browsing through tons of stuff, checking out the local fauna and occasionally buying stuff. Buying stuff is usually followed by a rather lengthy procedure where you have to stand in a line and patiently wait your turn at the checkout counter.

Now picture the same scenario, but without the check out counter encounter. Instead, you pass through a scanner, all your stuff is billed and the money is directly deducted from your account! If it sounds like something from a futuristic movie, then you haven’t heard of RFID. An abbreviation for Radio Frequency Identification, RFID is a technology that uses radio waves to communicate between an electronic tag and a reader, to track and identify an object.

Very similar to the barcode technolgy

Very similar to the barcode technolgy

RFID is very similar to the barcode technology, where you can check out the price of an object by running the barcode sticker through a scanner. After that, the price of the product is automatically added to the bill of the user. However, unlike the barcode system, RFID is a lot faster. This is because although the former system uses optical scanning, RFID uses radio waves to track a product. So, you don’t have to place the tag exactly under the scanner, just pass the Radio Frequency scanner and the tagged product is identified and tracked.

There are two types of RFID readers – Fixed RFID and Mobile RFID. The difference is as obvious as the names! While Fixed RFID readers are placed in stationary positions like a toll booth, devices that can read RFID tags on the move are Mobile RFID readers.

an Active RFID reader

An Active RFID reader

Moving on to the tags, of which there are three types. Active and semi-active tags are battery operated, cost more and can be read from a distance of 100 feet or more. Passive tags on the other hand don’t have a power source, are less expensive but can only be read till a distance of 20 feet or so.

Well that’s about the basic mumbo-jumbo related to RFID and now we can move onto some more interesting stuff like the initial things that were tagged and probably stuff that might end up being tagged in the future (and that might include you and me).

Different Places where RFID are being used
Earlier, RFID tags were used to keep track of cattle and are now focused more towards tracking consumer products. A very good example would be the supply chain where products of different types find their way in and out of a warehouse. It’s quite obvious that keeping check of each and every single product in such a scenario can be difficult and time consuming, especially if they arrive in large amounts. Through RFID, all products can be tracked in bulk (something which would take a lot of time for the barcode technology). But that’s not all, today there are other places where RFID are being used. Let’s take a look at a few of them:

One of the earlier

One of the initial “things” to be tagged

Toll Booths
Traveling through national highways are good till that dreadful toll booth appears. No, it’s not the toll that is the problem, rather it’s the time it will take you to finally get your car through that narrow passage. Once you do reach the counter, you start bargaining over change in terms of currency and toffees. But, there are many countries that have adapted RFID to make their toll booth payments. While Singapore uses EZ-Link cards which are like smart cards for making payments for tolls, Norway uses the autoPASS toll collection system. So you only need to pass through the booth and your tagged card or vehicle is tracked and the payment is automatically made.

Casino Chip Tracking
You read that right. The next time you enter a casino with a vile plan of “making quick money”, you better think twice. Sometime around 2005, the Wynn Casino in Las Vegas started placing RFID tags on high value chips. So everything from betting habits of individual players to counterfeit chips can be tracked. Also, it also helps to make chip tallies faster and find out counting mistakes made by dealers. One case in the Bellagio casino that occurred on the 15th of December 2010 involved a robbery of chips worth $ 1.5 million. The RFID tags of those chips were invalidated, reducing the value of each of those chips to zero! Tough luck, eh?

Those chips are not good for health!

Those chips are not good for health!

Near Field Communications (NFC)
You’ve obviously heard of this term if you’re into mobile phones. Handsets that have an NFC chip are capable of making payments directly through their phones and don’t worry, the payment can only be made after the user enters a passcode or PIN.

Other places where RFID tagging has been used are Passports, Animal identification, Inventory systems and Hospital Operating rooms. So that’s about how much RFID is actually penetrating into our lives for now.

How far can RFID tagging go?
Now that RFID tags are being used to track products, casino chips and animals, the question is what next? It’s very possible that these tags might later be applied to human beings. While Radio tagging people might be helpful in a different number of scenarios, a proper mandate issuing the same should be followed. It can really feel awkward when a random group approaches an individual and tags him/her for a particular reason.

However, there's a lot of hope for RFID from those who have been working with it as well. Shiladitya Mukhopadhyaya, DIrector of Rasilant Technologies Pvt. Ltd. says, “RFID is certainly the future of tracking and managing stuff. It is a lot faster, easier and better than the current barcode technology. RFID is only heading in the positive direction and in time to come, will be one of the main sources of efficient logisitics.”

To end on a positive note, RFID tags can be pretty helpful in our daily life. Tracking electronic products will enable companies to get information on how far the product has reached and how many of them are being sold everyday. On a flipside however, issues like how deep the RFID penetration should be or security concerns regarding encryption standards should be addressed. However, there’s no denying RFID is definitely one technology that we’re going to play with in the future.

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