Radio Frequency IDentification


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Radio Frequency IDentification

  1. 1. Radio Frequency IDentification Antony Philip, University of Minnesota SYNONYMS RFID DEFINITION Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is an electronic identification technology that allows an object, place, or person to be automatically identified at a distance without it being in direct line-of-sight. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND Radio frequency identification has been used since World War II to solve identification and asset tracking problems. The first known use of RF Identification was during World War II. The British Royal Air Force used the technology as an identification tool in its Identify Friend/Foe (IFF) systems. Allied planes with an IFF transponder would respond to queries from ground-based radars with a specific response. By the late 1970s, RFID was used for the tracking of livestock. Individual cattle were tagged with their own identification beacon. RF readers were placed at points of entry into barns, feeding stalls and other locations. The ability to identify individual cows without human interaction allowed better tracking of feeding and health irregularities. In the early 1980s, railroad companies were using RFID to tag rail cars. This was among the first uses of RFID for asset tracking over a large geographic area. An earlier initiative to do this with bar codes failed due to poor read reliability in adverse weather conditions, high travel speeds and direct sunlight. In the 1990s, RFID arrived in the suburban malls throughout the United States as an enabling technology for Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS). RFID readers positioned by store exits would trigger an alarm if an EAS tag passed through the field. SCIENTIFIC FUNDAMENTALS In many ways, the physical processes involved in RFID systems are the same across all types of wireless communications systems, cordless telephones, or even baby monitors. There is a transmission of an interrogator signal from an antenna to a transponder, and a separate transmission of a reply from the transponder to a receiving antenna. Most interrogator designs allow for a single antenna to be used for transmission and reception.
  2. 2. Figure 2. RFID Tags Figure 3. RFID Reader RFID tags, the computer chips embedded with products so they can be identified come in a variety of shapes as shown in Figure 2. Tags can be active or passive depending on how the chips are powered. Active tags have their own internal power source to power the chip while passive tags do not. The majority of RFID tags in existence are of the passive variety because they don’t need a battery to operate. Tag readers, such as the one shown in Figure 3 generate a signal, creating an electromagnetic field. This causes the RFID tag’s antenna to function as a voltage generator. The current generated in the tag powers the chip, which modulates the radar cross-section of the tag and therefore its reflected power. The modulation applied is usually specific to the tag, thereby allowing information on that tag to be sent to the receiver. The simplest command results in the tag sending back a signal containing a unique digital ID (e.g., the EPC-96 standard uses 96 bits). Once the id for the tag is read, the reader can send the data to the application software for further processing. The application software then queries the information about the id from its known data bases. This will give the history of the tag/product and enables updating the database with the current spatial and temporal information about the
  3. 3. product. Sometimes, the tag may have an additional EEPROM memory which allows the reader to write back instance specific information to the tag. A typical RFID system may have the following: • Hardware components o Tags, programmed with binary data which respond to commands propagated through the electromagnetic field o Fixtures which attach the tag to the object being tracked o Readers or integrators, which may have an integrated antenna to transmit commands to tags and interpret the modulated results o Network infrastructure, to allow communication between integrators and the enterprise systems which evaluate the data read from the tags – This could be RS-232, Ethernet or 802.11b wireless cards or proprietary protocols. o Power infrastructure, to provide AC or DC power to the readers. • Software / Middleware o A reader, that can identify one or more tags are in the presence of a field. It is useful to identify information such as the presence of a new tag or that a tag which has been there is currently missing. But repeatedly reading the same tag data may not be useful, so the events of interest need to be defined by the upstream applications. o A software middleware which adapts to the requirements of the upstream applications and the varying reader protocols as explained in section 4 o Software systems to update and get information from companies’ enterprise systems like MRP, ERP, CRM, etc. o Spatio-Temporal databases which can capture spatial and time information of the data collected. KEY APPLICATIONS RFID has many potential applications, but the main beneficiary of this technology is the global supply-chain management industry. Traditionally product identification was done using bar codes and scanners. These bar-codes met the needs of the industry provided that constraints in using them were met, namely that the barcodes were scanned by operators or that products were carefully moved in an automated system so that bar codes were visible. This method is not efficient and subject to errors. By contrast, products which use RFID tags for identification can be read even if they are obscured by other products.
  4. 4. Figure 1. Retail Supply Chain Figure 1 shows a typical supply chain maintained by retail stores such as Walmart to support end customers who buy goods from them. The retailer buys goods from distributors, who have warehoused goods they bought previously from manufacturers. The goods are manufactured using parts from the suppliers. As materials move from the initial supplier in the chain to the end-customer, value and costs are added at each node. Businesses strive to make their supply chains more efficient by improving the information sharing throughout the supply chain in order to optimize profit based on supply and demand. Introducing RFID tags and readers in the supply chain can greatly increase the productivity, reduce chances for mistakes and improve the overall efficiency of this supply chain system. RFID technology began receiving tremendous coverage in the media in the early 1990s because of successful applications such as ExxonMobil’s credit card linked Speed Pass, north eastern states EZPass toll collection system, and the US Department of Defense’s asset tracking during the second Gulf War. At the same time, RFID began to attract negative publicity from privacy advocacy groups because of its potential as a powerful data mining tool. In recent years, concerns about privacy have threatened to predominate over news of positive applications. Ohkubo et al. [3] argue that to be successful as a technology, RFID applications should give clear, tangible value to the average consumer. This will compensate for whatever loss of privacy fears they may have. Consumers tend to accept the risk of being tracked if they feel it’s worth the benefits the application provides. So the key to a successful RFID application is how it considers the equation from the consumer’s point of view. To alleviate this privacy concern EPCGlobal specifies a ‘kill’ function for the tag, allowing the end-user the opportunity to remove the tag-id from the product. Despite these concerns in the marketplace over privacy, the list of popular applications of RFID has grown to include: • Electronic Product Code (EPC) tags for products stored in a store • Embedded tags in library books to track check-in, check-out of books • Traffic toll collection (such as EZPass) • Passports and other IDs • Pet identification • Semiconductor factory lot tracking • Livestock tracking • Measuring reach and network routing of water and sediment by tracking RFID’ed rocks (
  5. 5. One natural extension for RFID is RFID with sensing capability. Adding this facilitates the collection of sensor derived data on the product it is tagging along. Some of the applications of RFID with sensor are • Measuring physical parameters such as temperature and acceleration. This includes some of the well-known applications like detecting the temperature changes for frozen poultry and detecting the acceleration changes in packaging for sensitive equipment such as computers, artwork, etc. • Harmful agents such as biological, nuclear, chemical monitoring. This is an application of interest especially after the events of 9/11. RFID data can be integrated into spatial databases to develop powerful applications. Tag readers can be considered as one of the information provider node in a spatial database application framework. Tag reader provides both spatial and temporal information for a product it read. In a retail environment this facilitates spatio-temporal queries and facilitates demand forecasting. FUTURE DIRECTIONS The RFID industry faces a number of challenges, both technical and non-technical, to widespread adoption of RFID technology. • Orientation The tag-reader cannot communicate effectively with a tag that is oriented perpendicular to the reader antenna. As we can see this limits RFID usage to applications such as ‘one scan identification’ of all products in a shopping basket. This problem can be mitigated by using multiple readers oriented in many directions. However, using multiple readers requires additional synchronization and merging of results. • Reader Coordination and Signal Processing Most RFID readers are not designed to operate in the presence of another reader that is also scanning for tags. Standards are needed to define a protocol to allow these systems to share the available bandwidth. Further improvements can be made when interpreting the tag signals received at the reader, intelligently filtering out noise.
  6. 6. • Product Packaging Independence RFID tag information can be disrupted by materials in the product it is identifying. Since tags use RF circuits, it is possible to attenuate the signals if they are placed next to products made of metals such as food cans. • Multiple Standards Because of cost trade-offs, national frequency use restrictions, and politics multiple standards are used within countries and around the world. • Data Formats Although the data format returned by read-only tags is defined by standards, the writable tags provide flash memory that customers can use in a proprietary way. Standardizing this data format will facilitate inter-operability. An XML-based format might be adopted for this purpose. • Longer Range In practice most of the lower-frequency RFID systems can read tags at a maximum distance of about a meter. Reliable longer-range systems should become possible and expand the usefulness of RFID in warehouses and other voluminous environments. • Lowering Manufacturing Costs Lowering tag and system costs would likely further the adoption of RFID, particularly for item-level tagging. Industry currently aims to bring down the cost of a tag to 5 cents to enable large scale adoption for individual product tracking. • RFID with sensor RFIDs with sensors have several unique problems. First of all, packaging a sensing material with a tag chip is difficult. Also, the sensors need to operate in a condition in which it gets power only when the tag is being read. • Privacy And Customer Pushback As noted earlier in section 3, many consumers fear misuse of their personal information, if the items they bought are tracked after its sale. If early adopters of the technology do not address these issues successfully, they may well face customer pushback and loss of sales. To address these challenges, RFID stakeholders began to work with MIT and other universities to create the Auto-ID Center in the late 1990s. Founding members included several hardware and software component manufacturers, system integrators and a number of product manufacturers and distribution chain participants. The overall goal was to drive the adoption of RFID. In 2003, the administrative function of the center was spun off into an organization called EPCGlobal, while the university research components continued under Auto-ID Labs. EPCGlobal works towards the goal of
  7. 7. driving RFID adoption in several ways. Each targets one or more of the challenges presented by the industry structure or specifics of the technology. First and foremost, EPCGlobal establishes and promotes standards for the automatic identification of items in the supply chain of any company, industry and country. EPC is an acronym for “Electronic Product Code”. The EPC number is a compact numerical naming convention to uniquely identify items in the supply chain. When an EPC- compliant tag responds to an interrogator, it usually transmits its EPC number. Current versions of the EPC contain either 64 or 96 bits, and store four pieces of information: • A Header that identifies the format and version of this EPC • A Manager Number to identify the company associated with the product • An Object Class, identifying a product type unique to that company • A Serial Number which uniquely identifies the item The software standards serve to meet the supply chain coordination challenges. The Physical Markup Language (PML) which is an XML standard offers a common vocabulary for communicating information about items across the entire supply chain. PML is extensible, meaning that additional attributes can be appended as needed. Object Naming Service (ONS) provides for the translation of tag data into useable information about the manufacturer and product. There are already many companies working with RFID technologies and more are being added to this list every day. An important role of the EPCGlobal consortium is to provide a single voice for the industry. The consortium provides a forum for all the value chain actors to interact. EPCGlobal maintains a relationship with the Auto-ID Labs at several universities worldwide. The labs conduct research into various aspects of RFID systems, and continue to publish research. Through this relationship, EPCGlobal can help shape the direction of research in order to address obstacles adoption of RFID technology. RFID technology can provide considerable value to industry and ultimately to the end user. The technical challenges listed in section 5 may be overcome in the coming years but the privacy concern will remain unless the industry makes a concerted effort to alleviate it. Another major challenge is integrating the vast amount of data generated in these readers with existing databases. The data generated is about individual products whose product life-cycle is kept in the database. Since the data generated is of a spatio- temporal nature, spatial database technologists can play a crucial role in mining that data to give valuable information. CROSS REFERENCES Geosensor Network
  8. 8. RECOMMENDED READING 1. Eckfeldt, B., ., “What does RFID do for the consumer”, Communications of the ACM, Vol 48 , No 9, pp 77-79, 2005 2. Landt, J., "The history of RFID", IEEE Potentials, Vol.24, no.4, pp. 8- 11, Oct- Nov 2005 3. Ohkubo, M., Suzuki, K., Kinoshita, S., “RFID privacy issues and technical challenges”, Communications of the ACM, Vol 48 , No 9, pp 66-71, 2005 4. Sarma, S., “Integrating RFID”, ACM Queue, Vol 2, No 7, pp 50-57, 2004 5. Want, R., “The magic of RFID”, ACM Queue, Vol 2, No 7, pp 40-48, 2004 6. Want, R., "Enabling ubiquitous sensing with RFID," Computer , vol.37, no.4, pp. 84- 86, 2004 7. EPCGlobal Website,