RFID tags are a type of tracking system that uses smart barcodes in order to identify items. RFID is short for “radio frequency identification,” and as such, RFID tags utilize radio frequency technology.
These radio waves transmit data from the tag to a reader, which then transmits the information to an RFID computer program. RFID tags are frequently used for merchandise, but they can also be used to track vehicles, pets, and even patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
An RFID tag may also be called an RFID chip.
How do RFID Tags Work?
An RFID tag works by transmitting and receiving information via an antenna and a microchip — also sometimes called an integrated circuit or IC. The microchip on an RFID reader is written with whatever information the user wants.
Types of RFID Tags
There are two main types of RFID tags: battery-operated and passive.
- Battery-operated RFID tags contain an onboard battery as a power supply. Battery-operated RFID tags might also be called active RFID tags.
- Passive RFID tags are not battery-powered and instead work by using electromagnetic energy transmitted from an RFID reader.
Passive RFID tags use three main frequencies to transmit information: 125 – 134 KHz, also known as Low Frequency (LF), 13.56 MHz, also known as
High Frequency (HF) and Near-Field Communication (NFC), and 865 – 960 MHz, also known as Ultra High Frequency (UHF). The frequency used affects the tag’s range.
When a passive RFID tag is scanned by a reader, the reader transmits energy to the tag which powers it enough for the chip and antenna to relay information back to the reader. The reader then transmits this information back to an RFID computer program for interpretation.
Passive RFID Tag Types
There are two main types of passive RFID tags: inlays and hard tags.
- Inlays are typically quite thin and can be stuck on various materials
- Hard tags are just as the name suggests, made of a hard, durable material such as plastic or metal.
Active RFID tags use one of two main frequencies — either 433 MHz or 915 MHz — to transmit information. They contain three main parts, including a tag, antenna, and interrogator. The battery in an active RFID tag should supply enough power to last for 3-5 years.
When it dies, the unit will need replaced, as the batteries are not currently replaceable.
Active RFID Tag Types
There are two main kinds of active RFID tags: beacons and transponders.
- Beacons send out an information ping every few seconds, and their signal is readable from several hundreds of feet away. Because they are sending out data so frequently, their battery tends to deplete quicker.
- Transponders, like passive RFID tags, require the use of a reader to transmit information. When within range of one another, a reader first sends out a signal to the transponder, which then pings back with the relevant information. Because they only activate when near a reader, transponders are much more battery-efficient than beacons.
What are RFID Tags Used for?
RFID tags used in a wide range of applications, including:
- Inventory management: RFID tags can be attached to products or packaging to track their location and movement throughout the supply chain.
- Access control: RFID tags can be used as electronic keys to grant access to secure areas or to track employee movements.
- Asset tracking: RFID tags can be used to track valuable assets, such as equipment, vehicles, or tools, to prevent theft or loss.
- Animal tracking: RFID tags can be used to track animals for research, wildlife management, or farming purposes.
- Payment systems: RFID tags can be used in contactless payment systems, such as transit fare payment cards or electronic toll collection.
- Healthcare: RFID tags can be used to track medical equipment, monitor patient vital signs, and ensure proper medication administration.
Overall, RFID technology enables automated data collection and can improve efficiency, accuracy, and security in a variety of industries and applications.
Examples of RFID Tags
Since an active RFID is constantly sending out a signal, it makes an excellent choice for those looking for up-to-the-minute live tracking, such as in tolling and real-time vehicle tracking applications. They are an expensive product, but they do offer a long read range, which may be preferred depending on their application.
Passive RFID tags are a much more economical choice than active RFID tags, and cost around 20 cents each. This makes them a popular choice for supply chain management, race tracking, file management, and access control applications.
While a passive RFID tag does not require a direct line of sight to the RFID reader, it has a much shorter read range than an active RFID tag. They are small in size, lightweight, and can potentially last a lifetime.
Since active RFID tags feature a larger, more rugged design than passive RFID tags, they are better suited for applications where durability is required. They are frequently used in toll payment transponder systems, cargo tracking applications, and even in devices used to track people.
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