Tech Talk

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Our tech team debunk technical jargon and give advice and tips on getting the most out of your technology investment. In this edition our focus is the terminology that pervade monitoring and asset tracking technology, in particular:

  • RFID
  • RTLS

 

RFID

RFID stands for Radio-Frequency Identification. The acronym refers to small electronic devices that consist of a small chip and an antenna. The chip typically is capable of carrying 2,000 bytes of data or less.

 

The RFID device serves the same purpose as a bar code or a magnetic strip on the back of a credit card or ATM card; it provides a unique identifier for that object. And, just as a bar code or magnetic strip must be scanned to get the information, the RFID device must be scanned to retrieve the identifying information.

 

A significant advantage of RFID devices over the others mentioned above is that the RFID device does not need to be positioned precisely relative to the scanner. We’re all familiar with the difficulty that shop assistants sometimes have in making sure that a barcode can be read. And obviously, credit cards and ATM cards must be swiped through a special reader. In contrast, RFID devices will work within a few feet (up to 20 feet for high-frequency devices) of the scanner. For example, you could just put all of your groceries or purchases in a bag, and set the bag on the scanner. It would be able to query all of the RFID devices and total your purchase immediately.

 

RFID technology has been available for more than fifty years. It has only been recently that the ability to manufacture the RFID devices has fallen to the point where they can be used as a “throwaway” inventory or control device. One reason that it has taken so long for RFID to come into common use is the lack of standards in the industry. Most companies invested in RFID technology only use the tags to track items within their control; many of the benefits of RFID come when items are tracked from company to company or from country to country.

 

RFID tags, a technology once limited to tracking cattle, are tracking consumer products worldwide. Many manufacturers use the tags to track the location of each product they make from the time it’s made until it’s pulled off the shelf and tossed in a shopping cart.

 

Outside the realm of retail, RFID tags are tracking vehicles, airline passengers, Alzheimer’s patients and pets. Soon, they may even track your preference for chunky or creamy peanut butter.

 

RTLS

Abbreviated as RTLS, Real Time Locating System is a fully automated Wi-Fi-based tracking system that uses RF (Radio Frequency) tags on the objects to be tracked, and then uses wireless technology to detect the presence and location of the RF tags in real time. RTLS is similar to RFID (radio frequency identification); however RFID tags are read as they pass fixed points and RTLS tags are automatically and continuously read. Some RTLS systems use GPS technology to locate tags.

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