I am about to buy an RFID reader with a 15-meter (49-foot) read range, as well as laundry tags that will be read inside guests' cars at our motel's exit. My question is this: Would we be able to read tags on towels inside those vehicles? The reader would be placed about 2 meters (6.6 feet) from the tags.
If a departing guest were to steal towels and throw them into the trunk of his or her vehicle, the tags would not be readable, because the RFID energy from a reader would bounce off the car's metal body and never reach the tags. If the towels were in the back or front seat, it might be possible to read the tags, but it would depend on the position of the reader antenna, which would need to be pointed down into the car's windows, not at the side of the vehicle. Some cars have metallic film on their windows and this, too, would prevent tags within from being interrogated. I would say you would be lucky to read 25 percent of the tags in the scenario you describe.
I assume that your goal would be to charge a departing guest's credit card for any stolen towels, or have a gate that would come down and prevent that person from leaving until the towels were returned. This could become awkward, however, as your customers might get upset or have a confrontation with your staff. A better option might be to record which specific towels were left in a specific room.
You could do this by placing an RFID tag or bar code in each room. Employees could use a handheld device to read the bar code or RFID tag of every towel's tag, and then read the tags on towels placed in a particular room. You could inform guests that you were tracking the towels placed in their room, and that if they are not returned by the end of their visit, they will be charged for the missing towels. That might provide a deterrent to theft, even if you couldn't always charge their credit card for the towels.
—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal
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