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An Introduction to RFID Development : Page 3

RFID gives computers the capability to track not only what but also where an item or person is. Here's what you need to know to understand the technology so you can develop solutions that rely on RFID data.

RFID Standards
Standards are critical for many RFID applications, such as payment systems, or tracking goods or reusable containers in open supply chains. A great deal of work has been going on over the past decade to develop standards for different RFID frequencies and applications.

ISO Standards
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed RFID standards for automatic identification and item management. For example, ISO has created standards for tracking cattle with RFID. ISO 11784 defines how data is structured on the tag. ISO 11785 defines the air interface protocol. ISO has also created a standard for the air interface protocol for RFID tags used in payment systems and contactless smart cards (ISO 14443), and in vicinity cards (ISO 15693). It also has established standards for testing the conformance of RFID tags and readers to a standard (ISO 18047), and for testing the performance of RFID tags and readers (ISO 18046). Here are some of the ISO standards already available.

  • ISO 15693—Smart Labels
  • ISO 14443—Contactless payments
  • ISO 11784—Livestock
  • ISO 18000 - Air interface protocol. The ISO 18000 series covers the air interface protocol for systems likely to be used to track goods in the supply chain. They cover the major frequencies used in RFID systems around the world. The seven parts are:
  • 18000—1: Generic parameters for air interfaces for globally accepted frequencies
  • 18000—2: Air interface for 135 KHz
  • 18000—3: Air interface for 13.56 MHz
  • 18000—4: Air interface for 2.45 GHz
  • 18000—5: Air interface for 5.8 GHz
  • 18000—6: Air interface for 860 MHz to 930 MHz
  • 18000—7: Air interface at 433.92 MHz
Using RFID to track goods in open supply chains is relatively new and fewer standards have been finalized. ISO has proposed standards for tracking 40-foot shipping containers, pallets, transport units, cases, and unique items, all of which are at various stages in the approval process.

The Auto-ID Center and EPC Standards
The Auto-ID Center, which developed Electronic Product Code (EPC) technologies, chose to create its own air interface protocol for tracking goods through the international supply chain.

The Auto-ID Center was set up in 1999 to develop the Electronic Product Code and related technologies that could be used to identify products and track them through the global supply chain. Its mission was to develop a low-cost RFID system; because the tags needed to be disposable (a manufacturer putting tags on products shipped to a retailer was never going to get those tags back to reuse them). The system had to operate in the ultra-high frequency band, because only UHF delivered the read range needed for supply chain applications, such as reading pallets coming through a dock door.

The Auto-ID Center developed its own protocol and licensed it to EPCglobal on the condition that it would be made available royalty-free to manufacturers and end users.

The center also was charged with developing a network architecture—a layer integrated with the Internet—that would enable anyone to look up information associated with a serial number stored on a tag. The network, too, needed to be based on open standards used on the Internet, so companies could share information easily and at low cost.

RFID Business Applications
Radio frequency identification can be used in many different ways to create value. RFID technology is currently being used in applications such as:

  • Asset Tracking—Companies put RFID tags on assets that tend to be lost or stolen often, that are underutilized, or that are just hard to locate at the time they are needed.
  • Manufacturing—Companies are using RFID to track parts and work in process, reduce defects, increase throughput, and manage the production of different versions of the same product.
  • Supply Chain Management—RFID technology is used to increase throughput, reduce shipping errors, and cut labor costs.
  • Retailing—Retailers are using RFID to improve supply chain efficiency, to help reduce theft, and to make sure inventory is up-to-date.
  • Payment Systems—RFID is used today to pay for road tolls without stopping; to pay for meals at drive-through windows; to pay for bus, subway, and train rides; and to pay for small retail purchases using contactless cards.
  • Security and Access Control—RFID has long been used as an electronic key to control who has access to office buildings or areas within office buildings. RFID is also being used to secure assets. Most late-model cars come with an RFID reader in the steering column.
There are many other innovative uses for RFID. One system even uses active tags in a bracelet to locate children at theme parks.

In essence, RFID gives computers the capability to track the location of items or people—in other words, RFID is the gateway to location-based computing. Like database technology, speech technology, and the Internet, RFID opens brand-new areas for application development.

Jeff Hanson has more than 18 years of experience in the software industry. He has worked as senior engineer for the Windows OpenDoc port and as lead architect for the Route 66 framework at Novell. He is currently Chief Architect for eReinsure, which specializes in providing frameworks and platforms for J2EE-based reinsurance systems. Jeff has also authored numerous articles and books.
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