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Radio Frequency Identification (rfid) Technology

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Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Technology

Ron Paradis

Scott Stewart

Kenneth Stockstill

University of Phoenix

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Technology

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is technology that utilizes the radio frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to uniquely identify animals, people or objects (Mobile Computing, 2005). Although some applications for RFID parallel barcode technology, there is one major difference - RFID does not require line-of-sight to capture data that is scanned. Applications for RFID technology are wide-ranging and include automated toll collection, inventory control, asset management and tracking of livestock. In this paper we will discuss the history of RFID, how RFID works, current and future applications of the technology, and ways in which the technology impacts individuals and organizations locally as well as globally.

History of RFID

Dr. Jeremy Landt (2001, 2), one of the world's leading authorities on radio frequency identification, traces the ancestry of RFID back to the beginning of time when God said, "Let there be light" (Genesis 1). It is evident that at the time of creation electromagnetic energy was in existence. The importance of this observation for our discussion lies in the fact that this energy is the source of RFID. Fundamental knowledge and understanding of electromagnetic energy started in the 1800s and came to fruition in 1887 when Heinrich Hertz, building on the works of others, was the first to successfully transmit and receive radio waves. In 1948 Richard Stockman published a paper entitled "Communication by Means of Reflected Power " that credits him with inventing RFID (see Table 1). Early application of the technology however, was another 30 years in the making when Matt Lezin and Tom Wilson of Identronix Research implanted an RFID transponder in a dairy cow in 1978 (The Eagle's Nest, 2002). Since that time much progress has been made and RFID technology has become part of daily life for many companies around the globe.

Table 1

RFID Timetable (Landt, 2001, Page 7)

Decade Event

1940 - 1950 RFID invented in 1948 with publication of "Communication by Means of Reflected Power"

1950 - 1960 Early explorations of RFID technology

1960 - 1970 Start of applications field trials

1970 - 1980 Explosion of RFID development

1980 - 1990 Commercial applications enter mainstream

1990 - 2000 Emergence of standards

How RFID Works

Basic RFID technology is comprised of two devices, a tag and a reader. RFID tags contain electronic circuits, or transponders, that are activated when they come into proximity of the reader, which causes the tag to continuously transmit its data via radio signals (IDA Singapore, 2004). The reader captures data from the tag's transponder and feeds it to a desktop or server application to be processed as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 - Illustration of RFID Process (IDA Singapore, 2004).

There are two types of RFID tags, active (high frequency) and passive (low frequency). Unlike active tags, passive tags do not require an internal power source and are therefore less expensive and more commonly used. Although more expensive, active tags offer several advantages that include greater storage capacity, larger distances for signal transmission and more reliable multi-tag data collection.

Local and Global Implications

RFID technology not only helps department stores like Wal-Mart keep shelves stocked with in-demand merchandise, it helps the Department of Defense (DOD) provide needed supplies to our troops in Iraq much more quickly than in pre-RFID days. Since the DOD realizes major improvements in supply chain management through the use of RFID technology, it is now requiring many of its suppliers, like Boeing and Raytheon Missile Systems, to ship orders with RFID tags in place. Defense contractors, as well as other suppliers will need to comply with the new requirements if they want to continue doing business with the DOD.

Smart-tek Solutions, a California based company, may play a role in helping minimize the spread of avian influenza in China. According to a recent InformationWeek article the company can use RFID protocols to track and count birds, track species, log inspection dates, as well as document ownership data. The Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology has met with the CEO of Smart-tek, and has the authority to mandate the use of RFID in poultry farms (Jones, 2005).

Although the corporate benefits of RFID are easily recognized, the technology is somewhat controversial and not always well received. Wal-Mart consumers, for example, have been known to protest the use of RFID, claiming infringement of personal privacy. A recently published book on the subject entitled "Spy-Chips", adds to the controversy by claiming that governments and corporations will use the technology to track individuals without their knowledge (Sciannamea, 2005). Whether or not there is just cause for concern remains to be seen.

RFID in the Gaming Industry

The capability of RFID appears to be very well suited to overcoming obstacles that are presented in numerous industries. The unique nature of the gaming industry presents many unique challenges that can be reduced by the clever use of RFID technology. Successful casino management requires valid information in order to make sound business decisions. By introducing RFID technology into the gaming industry, a wealth of data is suddenly made available to increase management's ability to turn a profit.

Casinos spend huge amounts of cash in hopes of drawing in larger crowds of spending customers. "With a noticeable increase in gaming and the explosion in slot play, casino directors are facing more complex business challenges today than ever before" (Richards, 2001, 2). Competition among casinos becomes extreme with each new property required to build larger, fancier, and nicer facilities in order to gain the advantage. With the

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