Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology has been around since the early 20th century, and it has come a long way since, revolutionizing inventory management and tracking.

In this blog post, we’ll explore what RFID is, RFID’s history, and how it actually works.

The History of RFID

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology has a long and fascinating history that spans more than a century. The earliest concept of RFID was discovered in the 19th century, when Michael Faraday carried out experiments with electromagnetic energy using lights and radio waves.

But it was not until the mid-20th century that RFID technology began to take shape. In 1935, during World War II, the first practical application of RFID  was developed to identify friendly British RAF planes from hostile foreign fighter planes. Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt, a Scottish physicist and radar pioneer, developed a basic form of RFID using radio waves that were emitted from a ground-based transmitter and received by an antenna on the aircraft. The received signal was then decoded to determine the identity of the aircraft.

The success of this technology led to further advancements in RFID, including the development of passive RFID in the 1960s and the introduction of active RFID in the 1970s. Today, this technology is widely used in various applications, such as inventory tracking, asset management, and access control.

What exactly is RFID

In its simplest terms, RFID consists of three main parts: a server, a reader, and a tag.

The tag itself is a tiny microchip component that can be attached to an item, making it easily and readily identified. The microchip part stores unique identification information to identify the particular product it's attached to.

The reader is a handheld device which scans and reads tagged items, obtaining the unique information that has been encoded to the tag.

Once an RFID-enabled item has been scanned and its information read, it’s communicated to the server, where the information can be analyzed, such as within Chainlane’s platform. The wider use of RFID outside of the retail environment has been associated with numerous applications, including animal tracking, SCM, medical records, electronic passports, and identity cards.

How does RFID work?

RFID technology uses radio waves to wirelessly communicate between a reader and a tag that is attached to an object. The tag contains a microchip that stores data and an antenna that receives and sends signals. When the tag comes into the range of the reader's electromagnetic field, it receives energy from the reader, which powers the tag's microchip. The tag then sends a unique identifier code back to the reader, which reads the information and uses it for various purposes, such as tracking inventory, monitoring access, or collecting data. Based on the application, RFID’s range and frequency can differ, with some systems able to read tags from several meters away, while others require closer distances.

Governments around the world regulate the use of RFID to ensure the technology does not interfere with other devices. The frequency of an RFID system is a key factor as to how well the solution operates as it is responsible for determining the reading range of the system, which has a direct impact on operational performance. The frequencies that are used in RFID systems are low (LF: 125-134 KHz), high (HF: 13.56 MHz), ultra-high (UHF: 868-956 MHz), and microwave (MF: above 1 GHz).

In conclusion, RFID technology isn't new but has advanced greatly since its inception, utilizing its three main components to help with inventory management, tracking, and much more within or external to the retail industry.