DN Staff

July 6, 2001

2 Min Read
Barcodes on steroids

Thursday, January 4, 2001

Today's engineers do virtual design on CAD and collaborative engineering over the Web, then they order rapid prototypes from bureaus and components from online catalogs.

In this rush to computer-aided-everything, there's just one thing to remember--who's keeping track of the actual, physical parts? The answer may be RFID (radio frequency identification), a technology for using wireless data communication to keep track of people and widgets.

It uses either active or passive tags (with or without batteries) and fixed or handheld readers (aka interrogators). In fact, RFID is nothing new--its cousins include well-known devices like barcode scanners and magnetic stripes. Other new advances in AIDC (automatic identification and data collection) include biometrics and optical character recognition.

In fact, RFID is often sold as the "better barcode," useful if you need to know the object's location as well as its price and useful in places where barcodes won't work, thanks to paint, mud, or grease. Also, it doesn't demand direct contact or even line-of-sight. It can also hold much more information, since the tags hold an IC or silicon chip. So it's used for everything from tracking airline luggage to matching newborns with their parents in a crowded hospital, as well as counterfeit protection, counting employee work hours, and tracking parcels for delivery.

One provider of RFID is RF Code (Mesa, AZ; www.rfcode.com), which makes the Mobile Spider Tracking System, a package of readers, tags, software, and a scanning device. Another developer is Wave ID, a startup company founded by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (Richland, WA; www.pnl.gov) to develop and sell the lab's communication systems. These range in size from a grain of rice to a credit card, and are designed for applications that demand long range and low power consumption.

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