In the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. there's an exhibit that features a pack of Wrigley's Chewing Gum. The significance: That very pack of gum was the first product ever scanned by a barcode reading system. The gum was scanned successfully back in June of 1974 at a supermarket in Ohio.
Barcodes are identification tags. They are printed on labels, packaging and products and are read by barcode reading systems. The barcode scanner reads the patterns of light and dark on the barcode labels and translates this information into a database. The database returns the information associated with the barcode. This is how the store’s cash register knows how much to charge for an item. So every pack of Wrigley’s Spearmint Chewing Gum has the same barcode.
RFID tags utilize a en.wikipedia.org..." target="_blank" class="postlink" rel="nofollow">GUID (Globally Unique Identifier) which is a pseudo-random number used in software applications. While the GUID numbering system cannot guarantee that each number will be unique, “the total number of unique keys is so large that the possibility of the same number being generated twice is virtually zero.” This means that unlike a barcode, each tag has its own unique identifier. This also means that each individual product can be tracked instantly as long as the reader is in range.
GUIDs allow chips to be tracked in cascading hierarchies. For example a truck, ship container or rail car tag could contain information on multiple pallets. Each pallet tag could contain information on multiple boxes. Each box tag could contain information on multiple products. Each product tag would contain information on that particular product. A reader with variable frequencies or the use of multiple readers could instantaneously confirm the accuracy of a manifest. Once the shipment has arrived at the warehouse or store, it allows for instantaneous logging in of the inventory. This application allows for tracking of a product from the time it leaves the manufacturer to the time it arrives at the consumer’s home. At this point, the RFID tag with the packaging is normally disposed of.
RFID tags, it would appear are superior to barcodes. Like barcodes, the RFID reader is connected to a database that associates certain data with the information received from the FRID tag. Unlike barcodes, they can be scanned from a greater distance and can be read through boxes and crates. However, since barcodes are much cheaper that RFID tags, it is unlikely that they will be phased out in the near future. As the use of RFID tags increase in consumer products, I am certain that the increase in cost will be passed along to the consumer. It is likely that barcodes and RFID tags will co-exist for many years.
The price of a passive RFID tag averages at about $0.50 per tag. One way to reduce the cost of RFID tags would be standardization. There is a company that is trying to do just that.
EPCglobal Inc., which has taken over for the MIT Auto ID Center, is the non-profit organization that is working to standardize electronic product codes and RFID technology.
This article describes how EPCglobal intends to standardize RFID tags through five fundamental elements. The components are the EPC (Electronic Product Code) also known as the GUID, the RFID tag, the ONS (Object Name Service) which tells the reader where to find the data associated with the EPC, the PML (Physical Markup Language) an XML based language used to define the data, and Savant the software used to co-ordinate the system. Standardization can be difficult due to the multiple applications of RFID tags.
Applications of RFID tags
• High-frequency RFID tags are used in library book or bookstore tracking, pallet tracking, building access control, airline baggage tracking, and apparel item tracking. High-frequency tags are widely used in identification badges, replacing earlier magnetic stripe cards. These badges need only be held within a certain distance of the reader to authenticate the holder. The American Express Blue credit card now includes a high-frequency RFID tag, a feature American Express calls ExpressPay.
• UHF RFID tags are commonly used commercially in pallet and container tracking, and truck and trailer tracking in shipping yards.
• Microwave RFID tags are used in long range access control for vehicles.
• RFID tags are used for electronic toll collection at toll booths with California's FasTrak, Illinois' I-Pass, the expanding eastern state's E-ZPass system, and the Philippines South Luzon Expressway E-Pass. The tags are read remotely as vehicles pass through the booths, and tag information is used to debit the toll from a prepaid account. The system helps to speed traffic through toll plazas.
• Sensors such as seismic sensors may be read using RFID transceivers, greatly simplifying remote data collection.
• In January 2003, Michelin began testing RFID transponders embedded into tires. After a testing period that is expected to last 18 months, the manufacturer will offer RFID enabled tires to car makers. Their primary purpose is tire-tracking in compliance with the United States Transportation, Recall, Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act (TREAD Act).
• Some smart cards embedded with RFID chips are used as electronic cash, e.g. Octopus Card in Hong Kong and the Netherlands and United Kingdom (In the form of the London Underground Oyster Card) to pay fares in mass transit systems and/or retails.
• Starting with the 2004 model year, a Smart Key option is available to the Toyota Prius and some Lexus models. The key fob uses an active RFID circuit which allow the car to acknowledge the key's presence within 3 feet of the sensor. The driver can open the doors and start the car while the key remains in a purse or pocket.
• In August 2004, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRH) approved a $415,000 contract to evaluate the personnel tracking technology of Alanco Technologies. Inmates will wear wristwatch-sized transmitters that can detect if prisoners have been trying to remove them and send an alert to prison computers. This project is not the first such rollout of tracking chips in US prisons. Facilities in Michigan, California and Illinois already employ the technology.
Quote from Wikipedia
RFID Inc is a RFID supplier based in Aurora, CO. This company has been in business since 1984 and was incorporated in 1997. They provide products for a number of well know companies. Their list of customers can be found here.
R4 Global Solutions is a RFID supplier based in San Francisco, CA. Here is a list of their customers.
There are many other suppliers of RFID technology.
From this article, Wal-Mart, one of the biggest retailer in the United States, announced in June of 2004, that they would expand their EPC and RFID technology to six distribution centers and 250 Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club locations by June of 2005. They expect that number to jump to 13 distribution centers and 600 retail stores by October of 2005. “Wal-Mart said the technology gives retailers greater inventory visibility from supplier to distribution center to a store's back room.” Wal-Mart is requiring its suppliers to place RFID tags on their cases and pallets shipped to them.
Denmark uses RFID technology to handle 149 busses which operate on 35 routes with 800 arrivals and departures per day. This article examines how RFID technology was used to solve their problems with real time information.
FedEx uses RFID wristbands to unlock the doors on their trucks. This article describes how RFID solved the problems FedEx drivers were experiencing with fumbling for their keys while carrying armloads of packages.
Another article tells how a library in Farmington Hills, MI, utilizes RFID technology.
Whether it is tracking products in the supply chain or automatically paying your toll, RFID technology has been involved in our daily lives more than most people are aware. They are used by consumers from the Department of Defense to Disney World. The technology is global. Tags can be disposable or reusable; read only or rewriteable. But RFID technology is not limited to products and service. The next installment will cover RFID application in animals.