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Radio Frequency Identification and Its Impact on I D Access Cards

Sep 8, 2008
There are many ways in existence to track items and people as they go about their day-to-day business. For years, the bar code has been the standard way to identify products, and they have also been used on many identity cards, such as library or club membership cards. They are also even used on some store loyalty cards.

A bar code is a simple, machine readable representation of a series of numbers. Originally these were a series of narrow and wide printed parallel lines, but more modern versions, as often used by couriers who deal with millions of packages a day, are now concentric rings or dot patterns, to allow more information to be stored in a small area.

Bar codes are fantastic, and are now so accepted by society that you really don't even think about them any more. But, they do have their downsides. As an optical method, the bar code must be visually scanned by some kind of optical scanning device before the information can be used. Typically this is a laser scanning device these days, connected to a computer which can interpret the pattern which is returned. It is so quick that in the blink of an eye, the information from the product or identity card can be read.

But if the bar code becomes damaged, scratched, bent or slightly ripped there is a problem. Even if just a small part of the code is covered by another label, or if there is dirt on the scanner unit, then a bar code can become unreadable. This is one of the major causes of frustration at a supermarket checkout, as the assistant repeatedly swipes the product and then eventually has to type in the code by hand. What a shame!

Many of the large DIY stores have an even worse time with bar codes. When a product is so large that it cannot easily be lifted, having the bar code on the bottom of a container is a real problem at the checkouts. Because of this, a number of leading stores have had to completely redesign their checkout area to accommodate packages, simply so that it is easier to get to see the bar code.

If only there was another way.... enter RFID.

The technology behind Radio Frequency Identification, has been around for nearly one hundred years. In a simple sense, there is a microchip which is embedded into a product or identification card. This chip does not need it's own battery power. When an RFID detector is brought near to the chip, it is energised and will transmit a very weak, but completely detectable radio signal of it's own containing typically a 127 bit unique identification number. This is 1.70141183 10 to the 38 possible combinations, a huge number.

These RFID chips have significantly come down in price, and are now well below the 50 cent per device mark. It is likely that a price of 5 cents is achievable in the near future.

With such a cheap technology, which is non contact and also non-visual, it is possible to uniquiely identify every single product which a company uses. In the case of identification cards, there is no shortage of possible ways that this technology could replace the bar code. Already, pet ID uses RFID technology - the animal is injected with the small chip and this then is used to identify the pet in case of emergency.

RFID opens up a whole world for identification, and we are only at the tip of the technology. It will not be long before the bar code is obsolete and every item is trackable from a distance using RFID techniques.
About the Author
F.Bradfield is a writer and web designer who provides content for 'The Cardnetwork' (http://www.thecardnetwork.co.uk), the best known producer of ID Cards,
ID card printers and ID card supplies in Great Britain.
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