UHF RFID history

While RFID had previously been focussed on lower frequencies where the technology was cheaper, the advantages of the UHF frequency spectrum started to be employed in the early 1990s. Experiments were undertaken by IBM who then trialled them with Wal-mart. However the technology was sold on to Internec and they were able to commercialise the technology.

The main drawback to large scale commercialisation was the lack of standards. Several processes started to come together to ensure proper standardisation that would allow the grown and widespread use of RFID.

In 1999 a number of organisations set up the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This enabled common standards to be set up.

Also the International Standards Organisation, ISO introduced standards for the different elements of RFID from tags to readers and writers, etc.

Another milestone in RFID history occurred when suppliers started to take RFID seriously and in January 2005, Wal-Mart required its top 100 suppliers to apply RFID labels to all shipments.

The history of RFID has shown a steady development in RFID technology. Having its routes in the earliest days of electrical science and then radio, RFID history has come out of developments such as radar and IFF. Now RFID is a technology in its own right which is widely used and showing massive benefits to industry and society as a whole.

NFC

Using NFC data is exchanged by two inductively coupled coils — one per appliance — generating an magnetic field with a frequency of 13.56 MHz. The field is modulated to facilitate data transfers. For the communication one device acts as the initiator (starting the communication) whereas the other device operates in target mode (waiting for the initiator). Thus not more than two devices can be evolved in the communication.
The rolls of the devices — initiator and target — are assigned automatically during the listen-before-task concept which is part of the mode switching of NFC. In general each NFC device acts in target mode. Periodically the device switches into initiator mode in order to scan the environment for NFC targets (= polling) and then falls back into target mode. If the initiator finds a target an initiation sequence is submitted to establish the communication and then starts exchanging data.
NFC distinguishes two operation modes for communication: passive and active mode.
Passive Mode
In passive mode only the device that starts the communication (the initiator) produces the 13.56 MHz carrier field. A target introduced to this field may use it to draw energy but must not generate a carrier field at its own. The initiator transfers data by directly modulating the field, the target by load-modulating it. In both directions the coding complies with ISO14443 or FeLiCa, respectively. This mode enables NFC-devices to communicate with existing contactless smart cards. The term load modulation describes the influence of load changes on the initiator’s carrier field’s amplitude. These changes can be perceived as information by the initiator. Depending on the size of the coils, ranges up to 10 cm and data rates of 106, 212, and 424 kBit/sec are possible.
Active Mode
When in active mode, both appliances generate an RF field. Each side transmits data by modifying its own field, using an Amplitude Shift Keying (ASK) modulation scheme. Advantages compared to passive mode is a larger operating distance (up to 20 cm) and higher transmission speeds (eventually over 1 MBit/sec). To avoid collisions only the sending device emits a electromagnetic field; the receiving entity switches off its field while listening. If necessary these roles can change as often as needed.
Usecases and Applications
An NFC compliant device offers the following modes of communication:
Reader/Writer Mode: In Reader/Writer mode an NFC system acts as an ordinary reader for contactless smart cards. If two or more cards are present in the reader’s carrier field one is selected using an anti-collision algorithm. NFC also takes care of sensing whether the chosen card is ISO 14443-A/B or FeLiCa compliant. The method used for anti-collision is dependent on the type of card detected. This mode causes the NFC device to act as an active device. From an application’s view there is no difference between a conventional and an emulated terminal, accesses to the contactless token proceed equally.
Operating in this mode, the NFC device can read and alter data stored in NFC compliant passive (without battery) transponders. Such tags can be found on e. g. SmartPoster allowing the user to retrieve additional information by reading the tag with an NFC device. Depending on the data stored on the tag, the NFC device takes an appropriate action without any user interaction. If e. g. an URI was found on the tag the handset would open a web browser.
Card Emulation Mode: Tag emulation mode is the reverse of reader/writer mode: A contactless token is emulated. Now the device acts soley in passive mode. Due to the fact that the card is only emulated it is possible to use one NFC wdevice to act on behalf of several „real“ smart cards. Which card is presented to the reader depends on the situation and can be influenced by software. Additionally an NFC device can contain a secure element to store the information for the emulated card in a secure way.
In this case an external reader cannot distinguish between a smart card and an NFC device in card emulation mode. This mode is useful for contactless payment and ticketing applications for example. Actually, an NFC enabled handset is capa-ble of storing different contactless smartcard applications in one device.
Peer-to-Peer Mode: This mode is specific to NFC. After having established a link between the two participants (the method is equal to ISO 14443-A) a transparent protocol for data exchange can be started. The data block size can be chosen freely, with an MTU (maximum transmission unit) limited to 256 bytes. Main purpose of this protocol is to enable the user to send his/her own data as soon as possible (i. e. after a few milliseconds). In a peer-to-peer session either both initiator and target can be in active mode or initiator in active and target in passive mode. This helps the target to reduce its energy consumption and is therefore especially useful if the initiator is a stationary terminal (e. g. a ticket counter) and the target a mobile device (e. g. a mobile phone).
The NFC peer-to-peer mode (ISO 18092) allows two NFC enabled devices to establish a bidirectional connection to exchange contacts, bluetooth pairing information or any other kind of data. Cumbersome pairing processes are a thing of the past thanks to NFC technology. To establish a connection a client (NFC peer-to-peer initiator) is searching for a host (NFC peer-to-peer target) to setup a connection. Then the Near Field Communcation Data Exchange Format (NDEF) is used to transmit the data.

RFID Technology Standards

Depending on the standard use, these cards are either proximity cards (according to ISO 14443) or vicinity cards (according to ISO 15693). Both standards use the so popular RFID Technology, so I’ll talk about that first. RFID standard for Radio Frequency Identification. The technology bases in the inductive coupling of two coils/antennas. Depending on the antennas and the power used to generate the electro mangentic field, distances starting from some centimeters up to several meters can be briged by using RFID Technology. There are several different frequencies used in the RFID Industry, popular ones are: 125 kHz, 13,56 Mhz (used by ISO14443, ISO15693, ISO18092) or 900 Mhz. In an RFID System there is usually an active reader, that generates the electro mangentic field and a passive transponder (tag, smartcard) that is powered by this field (and thus needs no battery). After the passive part is powered, the communication is established and both parties can exchange data. The active part (reader) emitting the field is also called initiator where as the passive one (waiting for the initiator) is called target. So far for the electro magenetic stuff (from a very basic, theoretical side) and back to the smartcards.
As already mentioned both proximity and vinicity card use 13,56 Mhz and therefore are compatible on the very low (physical) layer of communcation. ISO 15693 actually is not considered by the NFC Forum – the standardization body for NFC – thus, I will not give further details on this standard. During the standardization of ISO 14443 the two major players (Infineon, Philips; now NXP) could not agree on a modulation schema, thus there are two different one: ISO 14443-A (Philips, now NXP & Co.) and ISO 14443-B (Infineon & Co. ). There are several popular products using ISO 14443, like the RFID Passport. One of the most widely used RFID Card is Mifare. Mifare is not compliant to ISO 14443 on all levels (only 1 – 3) as it implements a proprietary cipher. Several public transport Systems, like London (Oyster) or Hongkong (Octopus) use Mifare. The cipher actually was broken in 2008. In Japan Sony has introduced its one contactless Smartcard: Felcia; there it is used for Payment & Public Transport (Suica). Felcia is neither ISO14443-A nor –B. NFC Devices in the further should be able to overcome all this different smartcard standards and should be able to talk to any of these contactless smartcards or reader.

NFC Tag Types

The NFC Forum has agreed on the following four NFC tag types.
Type 1:Type 1 Tag is based on ISO/IEC 14443A. This tag type is read and re-write capable. The memory of the tags can be write protected. Memory size can be between 96 bytes and 2 Kbytes. Communication Speed with the tag is 106 kbit/sec. Example: Innovision Topaz
Type 2: Type 2 Tag is based on ISO/IEC 14443A. This tag type is read and re-write capable. The memory of the tags can be write protected. Memory size can be between 48 bytes and 2 Kbytes. Communication Speed with the tag is 106 kbit/sec. Example: NXP Mifare Ultralight, NXP Mifare Ultralight
Type 3:Type 3 Tag is based on the Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) X 6319-4. This tag type is pre-configured at manufacture to be either read and re-writable, or read-only. Memory size can be up to 1 Mbyte. Communication Speed with the tag is 212 kbit/sec. Example: Sony Felica
Type 4:Type 4 is fully compatible with the ISO/IEC 14443 (A \& B) standard series. This tag type is pre-configured at manufacture to be either read and re-writable, or read-only. Memory size can be up to 32 KBytes; For the communication with tags APDUs according to ISO 7816-4 can be used. Communication speed with the tag is 106 kbit/sec. Example: NXP DESfire, NXP SmartMX with JCOP.)
Mifare Classic is not an NFC forum compliant tag, although reading and writing of the tag is supported by most of the NFC devices as they ship with an NXP chip. The specifications for the tag types are available for free from the NFC-Forum website.
NFC data exchange format (NDEF)
The NFC forum has defined a structure for writing data to tags or exchanging it between two NFC devices. The format is called NDEF. A so called NDEF record can contain multiple different RTD. A RTD is an information set for a single application, as an RTD may only contain an isolated information such as text, a URI, a business card or pairing information for other technologies. The different RTD specifications are available from the NFC Forum website.

RFID in Documents

Documents have been a part of human history even before the invention of paper. Every recorded transaction generates a document and these are preserved for varying lengths of time depending on their importance. Documents that establish or seek to dispute identity and ownership or are a permanent record of important events and transactions, especially documents generated by the government and statutory authorities, need to be kept safely often over a person’s lifetime. Even secure electronic documents are based on physical documents that are inherently unsecure.

While archival documents are largely confined in secure areas with limited access only to researchers, other important documents such as legal, financial and health records are often retrieved from time to time and handled by various people before being returned to storage. Institutions such as banks and insurance companies, and agencies such as document custodial services have in their possession huge quantities of important documents that require frequent reference. Similarly law courts handle millions of case papers and files in the course of their proceedings.

It is therefore imperative that the security of these documents is also ensured during their movement and transfer from the storeroom to the courtroom, office or any other place of examination and scrutiny. Physical documents can be misplaced, damaged, tampered or destroyed, and this loss can have serious consequences. Locating a particular document amongst a pile of similar records is also time-consuming. Without efficient document management, this is akin to searching for a needle inside a haystack.

RFID tracking of documents provides real-time visibility on a large-scale, which is not possible through other methods. Tags affixed to each document and file allow efficient remote monitoring and live tracking that is not dependent on either line-of-sight visibility or individual manual scrutiny. Since each tagged document and file can be uniquely identified within a stack of files that are read simultaneously by the RFID reader, the savings in time and effort are enormous. Document movement from one location to another is automatically verified by RFID readers at each transit location till it reaches its final destination. The system therefore establishes and ensures that a chain of custody is maintained throughout document storage, issue, movement and receipt, with a similar process occurring when the document is returned to storage. This in turn automatically creates an audit trail that provides a history of document custody.

RFID thus provides automated compliance, eliminates human error, bias and mischief, and ensures transparency in operations with the highest accuracy. Automated tracking enables automated alarms that are triggered in real-time whenever a tagged document is sought to be retrieved from custody by an unauthorized person or taken to a wrong or unauthorized location. Since each tagged document has its own unique digital identity, it can be easily searched and referenced in a database, and its physical location on a rack and shelf known to the system. This also allows an alarm to be triggered when a particular document tag from within a database list of a bunch of outgoing or incoming files cannot be read by the RFID reader since the document is missing from the bunch. If the document or file has only been misplaced, it is easily located when its RFID tag is automatically read on another rack or shelf.

Document tracking through RFID ensures that the current location of any document within the premises is immediately known to the system administrator and all other authorized persons at any given moment. It enables easy and accurate retrieval from storage and also identifies the current custodian of the file at its current location in transit. With the number of documents exponentially increasing all the time, document tracking and management through RFID is a fast growing market that provides the most reliable method of ensuring both security as well as prompt and accurate retrieval of documents. RFID tracking of documents brings efficiency in time savings and cost savings in a previously inefficient and lethargic sector, thereby improving compliance, productivity and performance, resulting in improved services to customers and the common man.

RFID in School Children

The safety and security of school children is a serious concern for parents and school officials. Students on their way to school and back are without parental or direct school supervision, and it is essential for guardians to know where and when these young children have got on and off the school bus, whether they have boarded the correct bus, and that they have arrived at school safely.

RFID tracking embedded within student IDs along with remote vehicle monitoring through GPS/GPRS enables easy and efficient management of students travelling in school buses, by ensuring that children have been picked up at their designated bus stop by the correct bus, and have also actually reached school instead of playing truant. The system has built-in alerts that notify the bus attendant if the child attempts to get on the wrong bus or fails to get off the bus. This ensures that little children are not left behind in the bus if they have fallen asleep. Bus tracking through remote monitoring of vehicle route ensures that bus drivers adhere to the specfied route and timings, halt at every pick-up and drop-off bus stop within a pre-determined geo-fenced area, and have responded to alerts.

The system enables messaging that is triggered through RFID Tag that informs guardians if the student gets off at an earlier bus stop, or the bus has been delayed due to traffic. When GPS tracking is available to parents, live status updates of school bus whereabouts can be received by them on their cellphones. They can then view when the school bus is about to arrive, so that they can be at the bus stop to pick up their children.

RFID can also be efficiently deployed by schools to individually monitor the food being served to each student and ensure that it is in accordance with each child’s individual health requirements. Foods which trigger allergies or are temporarily disallowed can be precluded from erroneous selection by the child. RFID tagged student IDs also simplify and automate library check-in and check-out, as well as monitor access to areas having restricted timings such as laboratories, computer rooms and gyms.

Identity cards with embedded RFID can be issued to school staff, bus drivers and attendants. Parents and guardians can also be issued such IDs to ensure that only authorized persons can pick-up students directly from the school premises.

Tracking of very young children in school and on the school bus, is an facility that provides safety and security to students, while providing assurance and peace of mind to their parents, and is fast becoming a necessity in an increasingly turbulent world.

RFID in Library

Libraries all over the world are moving away from the traditional model of using barcodes to scan and check out books. While this method has been around since the advent of barcodes almost 40 years ago, rapidly evolving technology has meant that more efficient, streamlined library management solutions have been developed. The most recent technology, one that many of the largest libraries in the world have already switched over to, is Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID).

This involves affixing a tiny RFID tag onto each book, which allows it to be read by readers stationed across the library. The advantage of this technology over barcodes is that RFID technology does not require a direct line of sight. Thus, multiple books can be detected and checked out simultaneously, instead of having to scan every individual book. In addition, patrons can check their books out themselves, instead of relying on a librarian. This gives the librarian more time to help out other library members, and it lets patrons check their books out faster.

RFID also acts as a security guard on the premises, alerting the guards if a book leaves the library without being checked out. Thus, one single technology, RFID, can replace the existing bar code technology for checkout, as well as the EM technology for theft detection.

RFID also helps in re-shelving, since wrongly shelved books can be instantly identified without needing a line of sight read. Patrons searching for books can also find books much faster using a handheld RFID scanner, instead of having to manually look through the shelves.

Finally, RFID also lets patrons return a book anytime they want. This is because the RFID chip in the book can be identified by the reader in the book drop box, and the returned book can be recorded. A librarian does not need to be physically present to collect the returned book, and so the library effectively stays open 24/7.

Given the many advantages that RFID has over traditional technology that is used in libraries today, many large libraries all over the world such as the Seattle Public Library in America and the Shenzen Library in China have already switched over to RFID.

RFID in Access / Parking

The primary requirement in most gated communities today is security. Yet, more often that not, this security simply comprises of a security guard at the entrance who asks some very rudimentary questions, if at all. It is easy for an outsider to enter the community without being questioned or stopped at the gate. On top of this, many legitimate residents are often held up before they are allowed to enter their own community, simply because the security guard doesn’t recognise them.

The answer to this problem is an automated system that eliminates human errors and delays. The most viable and efficient automated system is one based on Radio Frequency technology (RFID). It involves fixing a tiny radio tag onto the windscreen of cars belonging to the community. As they approach the gate of the community, an antenna senses the tag and automatically opens the gate to let them in. Thus, the guard never needs to stop legitimate residents of the community. However, when a non resident car approaches the community, the gate will not slide open, and the guard will be able to ascertain whether they have a legitimate reason for entering the community, or whether they should be denied access.

This technology allows for a streamlined, simple and efficient access solution to gated communities. However, it also allows for a solution within gated communities or corporate campuses / buildings, with respect to parking. RFID provides an access control solution for parking towers and it tracks and tabulates how many cars are parked on each floor. This lets it calculate how many free spaces there are and where those spaces are located, to provide the information to people entering the parking tower. This eliminates the process of having to find a parking spot – the minute the person enters the parking lot/tower, he knows exactly where he will have an open spot.

RFID also provides a visitor access control solution for corporations. If a visitor is expected, the security guard already has a pre-created RFID tag visitor card. Once the visitor arrives, the card is handed over after due identification. The visitor card is detected and the host in the company simultaneously receives a notification that the visitor has passed the gate. This gives him/her adequate time to prepare for the meeting and greet the visitor as required. The visitor card also gives the visitor access to the building where his meeting is, for a limited period of time. This eliminates dual security checks, makes for a more pleasant visitor experience, and creates a more efficient visitor management process.

RFID in Trucks

Manufacturers and suppliers utilize point-to-point transit trucking to transport their goods directly from source to destination. Depending on their scale of operations, this involves either having their own fleet of trucks, or retaining contracted vehicles, or hiring individual vehicles from trucking companies for their trips. In most cases, the manufacturers and suppliers are dependent on external transporters who often fall short of the high standards required for an efficient supply chain. Truck movement into and within the plant area is unsynchronized with loading and dispatch schedules, trucks take too much time within the plant premises between entry and exit, and there are either bottlenecks or a lot of idle time at various points. This results in loading bay underutilization, dispatch inefficiency and missed delivery schedules.

Overcoming this requires a solution that enables efficiency throughout the entire process of truck requisition, verification, loading, weighing and dispatch, without expending significant manpower resources required for detailed manual supervision. RFID technology provides such an automated solution that tracks and monitors these processes in real-time. Tracking technology also enables real-time monitoring and live mapping of trucks and cargo along their entire route from dispatch to trip completion and delivery confirmation.

RFID tagging of requisitioned trucks results in their automatic tracking at various locations within the plant premises – entry, waiting areas, loading bays, weighbridges and exit – by antenna and readers mounted at all these locations. The RFID driven automated solution manages the queuing, calculation of truck tare weight, assigning of loading bay, laden weight calculation and verification with order data, along with time logging at each stage of the process. The system enables remote monitoring of this traffic online in real-time, with individual truck status and delay alerts.

Trucks are also tracked on the move, en-route to their destination through onboard device integration with GPS/GPRS, providing live tracking and mapping data online back to the administrator. Stoppages and route diversions are instantly made known and alerted along with the exact GPS location of the truck. Cargo carried by the trucks can also be monitored online, if it is tagged and then tracked by the onboard device, which in turn sends this data back along with the truck location data. A cargo crate or carton gets tracked as long as it is within range of the device, thus providing an economical way of continuous tracking of goods in real-time while in transit.

RFID in trucking eases and improves management of goods transportation leading to quicker transit and adherence to delivery schedules. It is easily integrated as a cost-effective enhancement into an organization’s existing systems, providing real-time visibility of the entire dispatch and delivery process. This in turn leads to improved upstream and downstream efficiency in supply chain, agile replenishment, savings in time and manpower, and reduced cost. It benefits both, goods supplier and transporter, bringing them greater overall efficiency and competitive advantage.

RFID in Mining

Mining operations are generally spread over a vast area in remote locations and harsh environments. Ore extraction is a high cost and increasingly high technology venture that requires the utmost operational efficiency as well as uninterrupted workflow and delivery cycles. Operations cannot afford to be impacted due to lack of visibility as to the location and status of machinery, equipment and vehicles, since this causes delays, increased cost and mounting losses and is also an open invitation to theft and misuse. Real-time location tracking and monitoring, especially of moveable assets such as the vehicle fleet transporting the ore, is thus of critical importance to the mining industry. RFID technology not only fulfills these needs but offers substantial benefits in various deployments within the mining sector.

RFID provides automated solutions that monitor trips made by vehicles transporting ore from pit to port, tracking the vehicles and their ore quantities from loading source at the mine to the unloading destination. Tagged vehicles are automatically tracked by RFID antenna and readers mounted at gates and weighbridges. RFID-enabled weighbridges automate calculation of vehicle tare weight and laden weight, update databases at remote servers and transmit this data to the destination weighbridge for verification of trip made and delivered ore quantity. Wi-Fi based RFID systems seamlessly integrate disparate locations spread over long distances, enabling tracking and data availability in real-time.

Tracking pickups and deliveries of thousands of truck-loads moving daily to and from various locations inside mining areas to processing plants, rail wagons or jetties is a logistics nightmare. RFID tag deployment in mining removes weighbridge bottlenecks and improves vehicle turnaround times, enabling faster completion of ore delivery cycles. Automation of ore weighment at source and destination also helps prevent ore theft during transportation and curbs the illegal ore trade. It also brings about greater transparency in operations and yield monitoring to various regulators and stakeholders and provides oversight in the case of leased mining operations. Automated trip verification through RFID logs trip commencement and completion for each truck carrying ore, preventing multiple trip logging and ensuring correct trip reimbursement for drivers and owners of contracted vehicles.

RF equipment can also be easily integrated with complementary technologies such as GPS/GPRS to provide satellite-based live tracking and mapping of vehicles on the move. This enables utilization of existing infrastructure such as cell towers, thereby increasing both scope and range of tracking deployments. It also opens up further areas of real-time vehicle monitoring such as fuel consumption in transit and foolproof driver verification through RF integration with sensor technologies mounted within the truck. RFID deployment in security is also used to prevent unauthorized access in restricted areas and use of equipment by unauthorized personnel.

RFID based automated solutions also allow better asset maintenance and repair scheduling, load optimization, stockpile management, deployment of collision avoidance systems and quick location of emergency equipment. RFID is now considered a key deployment in the mining sector to increase efficiency and provide real-time visibility of production and assets. It has proven itself as a cost-effective and enabling technology that enhances workflow management, optimizes transport logistics and improves asset utilization, leading to better operational processes, increased productivity, reduced cost and greater global competitiveness.