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What Is RFID?

Posted By RFID Journal, 03.10.2014

Can you please define the technology?

—Name withheld


RFID is an abbreviation for radio frequency identification, which is a generic term used to describe a system that wirelessly transmits the identity of an object or person via radio waves. RFID solutions typically use a reader (also called an interrogator) that communicates with a tag or a transponder, and the means of identifying an object is usually, but not always, a serial number. So typically, you would have a transponder containing a microchip with a serial number stored on it. The reader would send out signals, and if there were a transponder in the read field, it would respond, essentially saying, "Hey, I'm here and my serial number is 123456."

There are also several forms of RFID that do not utilize microchips. SOMARK Innovations, for instance, makes a tattoo for animals with inks that store data (see RFID Tattoos to Make a Mark on Cattle Tagging and RFID Tattoos for Livestock).

Another company has a system of embedding metal filings in paper in random orientation. When these are hit with RF waves from a reader, they reelect back a unique pattern. A computer records and remembers the pattern so that tagged item can be repeatedly identified (see When Will RFID-Embedded Paper Be Available?).

For systems that use transponders with chips, there are three general forms of RFID: passive tags, which lack a battery; active tags, which utilize a battery to power the transponder and allow it to broadcast over long distances; and battery-assisted tags, which have a battery to run an onboard sensor and but reflect back a signal to the interrogator, like a passive tag.

—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal

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