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AIDC Technology
(Page updated in December 2001)

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a relatively new AIDC technology that keeps track of anything, especially those assets that move. RFID is a portable memory devices on a chip that acts like a UPC code is more than UPC because this microchip can carry much more dynamic information. This inexpensive microchip that can be embedded in any object stores basic information about the item. With in-expensive scanners within a range of a few feet (2 to 5 feet), you can read the information stored in these microchips. In future, we can see, this information being modified.

RFID employs Radio Frequency Communications to exchange data between the memory chip and a host computer. An RFID system typically consists of a "Tag/Label/PCB" containing data storage, an Antenna to communicate with the Tag, and a Controller to manage the communication between the Antenna and the PC.

Industry Initiatives

Major RFID research center at MIT Auto ID Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA. Proctor & Gamble, Gillette, Philip, Morris, and Wal-Mart and 30 other vendors have paid $300,000 each to support this research. MIT intends to design an infrastructure for auto ID antennas throughout Tulsa with analog RF antennas that can track packages with microchips. and a registry of domain names.

Types of RFID Tags

  • Passive read-only tags - Used for over 10 years - cost has dropped to 25 cents - will go down further
  • Active tags containing memory chip (as high as 1Mbyte- contain info on what is contained inside a box, container or pallet - prices around $3.00 in 2001 - will drop further in 2002.
  • More sophisticated and intelligent devices like Savi's RFID-GPS combination - a few hundred dollars a piece


RFID-based AIDC systems allow for non-contact reading of information embedded in chips and consequently are effective in the following vertical industry applications:

  • Military and Defense - Military version of commercial supply-chain application allows US Defense to track every major shipment of equipment and armament, using RFID and GPS. RFID smart tags are affixed to every box, pallet and containers to track its movement. US Army is using system based on Savi's RFID technology.
  • Manufacturing and other hostile environments where barcode labels is not a feasible solution.
  • Livestock identification
  • Environmental Control - Track movement of hazardous material. US Navy is using it for this purpose. 
  • Airline bag tracking - San Francisco airport is experimenting with high frequency chips using equipment supplied by SCS. The agent affixes an RFID to the bag at check-in time. Initial application is for security-related screening of bags. Manual screening of bags is avoided because the system routes the suspect bags automatically to special inspection area.
  • Automated vehicle identification (AVI) systems 
  • Library checkouts - Rockefeller University library in New York is testing the system now
  • Consumer payment systems - Fast food outlets like McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC are experimenting with RFID systems that allow customers to wave a wand against their smart cards to pay for the food. 
  • Gas Station Payment systems - Mobil's Speedpass, Phillips66's Philpass and a similar device at Shell will allow customers to pay at the pump (even faster than swiping your credit card) with RFID-based smart cards.

Greatest potential of RFID is in commercial and military supply chain applications where the process of tracking can be completely automated without a worker physically scanning an object, as is the case with UPC bar code scanning.

Key Attributes and Limitations of RFID

  • RFID is a major growth area of automatic identification and data capture
  • RFID chips were selling around 40 cents in mid 2001 but are expected to go down to 10 cents during the next couple of years when purchased in volume - million units. 
  • New generation, lower cost transponders offering multi-read capabilities
  • Wide range of products satisfying a range of data storage and data transfer needs
  • Low to reasonably high (64Kbits) read/write data storage capability
  • Wide range of data transfer rates, depending on device and carrier frequency used. Generally speaking, the higher the carrier frequency the higher the data transfer rates achievable
  • Close proximity (inductive systems) to tens of meters (radiating systems), without the need for line-of-sight interrogation, depending upon type of transponders and interrogation hardware
  • Ruggedized versions of products for reasonably harsh environments are available.
  • Data manipulation of RFID supply chain systems is quite difficult because of thousands of parts, and many location sensing points. 
  • Integration with existing supply-chain backend systems is still a problem. Some vendors have XML-based solutions in this area.

Vendors in The RFID Space

  • Intermec
  • WhereNet: The company designs, builds, and markets wireless supply chain visibility solutions for locating, tracking, and managing supply chain resources. 
    • WhereNet® has announced a strategic alliance with GE Medical Systems to provide wireless, real-time applications for locating, tracking, and managing assets through GE Medical's IntelliMotion® Asset Management Services.
  • Escort Memory Systems - good introductory material on RFID
  • Texas Instruments - supplies RFID hardware
  • Checkpoint Systems Inc. (supplier of security tags and RFID chips) has with Westvaco Corp, supplier of cartons and packaging, to embed chips in secure boxes.
  • Gemplus - smart card supplier for RFID-based payment systems 
  • Savi - Supply chain solutions
  • Infineon - A semiconductor designer and manufacturer
  • Magellan Technology  (Australia) specializes in developing RFID technology - tags and readers. Magellan’s technology conforms well to the upcoming RFID standard ISO 18000-3 mode 2 (FDIS). This ISO standard is expected to be published later this year (2003). 
  • Rafsec (Finland)  - RFID licensee of Magellan Technology

Case Studies And Customer Profiles

  • Go to Escort Memory Systems website.
  • Nokia and 2Scoot are bringing the convenience of cashless payments to lunchtime checkout -- by using cell phones and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology.
  • US Army is using RFID/GPS applications supplied by Savi
  • Volkswagen of Germany is using RFID/GPS combination device to keep track of semi-finished cars before accessories are installed and before shipment to dealers.
  • Associated Food Stores, grocery distributor in Salt Lake City, is using WhereNet's RFID technology to track trucks at its 600-acre distribution center. The company says that it was able to reduce the number of drivers from 100 to 62 as a result of more accurate information 

More Information on AIDC

Back to Main Page  |  Market Size | Bar Code | RFID | Card Bar Code | MICR | OCR | OMR
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