Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a contactless form of automatic identification and data capture. Dating back to World War II, RFID transponders were used to identify friendly aircraft. The RFID system consists of a reader, transponder, and antenna utilizing several frequency ranges.

Description of Radio Frequency Identification

Over 40 million RFID tags will be used in 1999 with sales projected to break the one billion-dollar mark before 2003 (Frost & Sullivan, 1997). Radio frequency identification is used in access control, asset control, and animal identification. The advantages of RFID are the capability for multiple reads, ability to be used in almost any environment, and the accuracy.

The Automatic Identification Manufacturers, International Standards Organization, and the American National Standards Institute are currently developing standards.Barcodes have been developed in the railroad business to keep track of the various cars. Out of this system of identification grew the U.P.C. (Universal Product Code) which is now used in almost all manufactured goods.UPC is used to store the manufacturer code as well as the product code in a form that can be easily read by various scanners - even from a distance. But there are limits to the use of barcodes. There must be a direct line of sight between the reader and the code. The barcode can be obscured, for example by paint.

One only has read-access to the data, i.e., one cannot add new data without adding another label. This is the point where a relatively new technology comes in: RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification). In RFID electronic chips are used to store data that can be broadcast via radio waves to the reader, eliminating the need for a direct line of sight and making it possible for "tags" to be placed anywhere on or in the product. One can even write to tags made of semiconductor chips, thus enabling updating of data. This write function introduces new capabilities, such as the updating of the manufacturing process of the attached item.