Radio-frequency identification – that’s RFID to you and me – isn’t something we see around us every day. But RFID tags are pretty much everywhere. They’re in our credit cards, our pets, and even in us.
There are literally billions of RFID tags in use around the world. And if you believe some scaremongering reports, thousands of people have an RFID tag planted inside them too.
RFID use is certainly growing, and it’s making our world a more connected place. But if you can’t see RFID tags, how do you know how they’re being used? Here’s a rundown of some of the more interesting uses of RFID.
Wait, what is RFID?
They’re tiny, and fairly simple things. A typical RFID tag contains computer memory that holds an ID and other data, and a transceiver ready to send and receive data.
Common, passive RFID tags don’t have their own power source – because they can actually be powered by radio waves from an RFID reader. When an RFID reader is within a few feet of a tag, it can send and read data to identify the item the tag is embedded in.
It makes products more unique
The most common use of RFID is to identify individual products.
Fender guitars: The world-famous guitar maker Fender has embedded over 30,000 of its instruments with RFID chips, which uniquely identify each guitar. The IDs can be read by police, Fender dealers, and repair shops. If a guitar is believed to be stolen, police can quickly know who the real owner is.
Casino chips: Unique RFID tags embedded in poker chips let the casino track how much gamblers are spending, and on which tables. Naturally, they also help prevent theft.
Beating counterfeits: Fake luxury goods are a major problem for companies the world over. In China, brands are using RFID to fight back. Products like Louis Vuitton bags can be embedded with a unique RFID tag, which customers can scan in-store before buying. If they don’t hear the right beep, it’s a fake!
Tracking everything: When a product has an RFID tag inside, it can be tracked wherever there’s a reader. So factories are using RFID to measure how long it takes to make each product. Companies are tracking how and where equipment, like vehicles and computers, are used.
It is small enough to fit in people and animals
The idea of having a chip inside you might sound a little weird. But many people, and animals, already do. It’s worth remembering that RFID tags can only be read when very close to a reader.
Identifying lost pets: One of the earliest domestic uses of RFID was to ‘chip’ pet dogs and cats. In the USA and Europe, many pets are implanted with an RFID tag when they’re a few weeks old. If the pet is found far from home after going missing, authorities can just scan the chip and find the owner’s contact information.
In Swedish office staff: In 2015, a Swedish office building started using RFID for security. Hundreds of people working at Epicenter volunteered to be chipped, so they could open doors and access secure equipment like photocopiers just by standing next to them. Now they’re permanently chipped!
1 in 3 Americans? According a 2014 Wyoming Institute of Technology study, one in three Americans could already be implanted with an RFID chip. In its sample of 2,995 people, 997 had an RFID implant. Most of the RFID chips found were apparently inside tooth fillings.
Implants aren’t the only way: Of course, people, don’t need to be ‘chipped’ to use RFID. In some hospitals, staff wear an RFID wristband that improves hygiene by tracking when they have washed their hands. At the end of the day they simply take it off.
It is making life easier
Perhaps the most exciting uses of RFID are those that promise to make everyday life more fun, and boring tasks quicker. RFID is already doing this in many ways.
Swipe-free passes: If you’ve visited Disney World Resort in Florida lately, you noticed the credit card-style tickets each feature a different Disney character. But they also have an RFID tag inside – and that’s why you can walk straight through barriers instead of having to show your ticket all the time.
No more lost golf balls: Sliced your shot wildly off the tee? With the right golf ball and a RadarGolf device, you won’t spend ages looking for it anymore. RFID will lead you straight to it… but there’s no guarantee you won’t need a drop!
Returning rentals faster: It’s the end of your vacation, and the long line at the car rental desk is going to make you miss your flight. With RFID-embedded cars and keys, you don’t need to wait. Just drop your keys in the box, and an RFID reader will log the time you returned them.
These are just a handful of the amazing ways RFID is being used today. As it becomes ever cheaper and smaller, we’re bound to see even more creative uses of RFID.
Now you know how it works, the next time you see an impressive use of contactless technology, you might think “That’s probably RFID!”
James Robbin, Head of Marketing at WalletWall