Posted by Jesse Braunstein

Radio-Frequency Identification or RFID technology is sculpting the future.

These tiny, integrated circuits go almost entirely unnoticed in our everyday lives but they are a much larger part of our worlds than we realize.

I’ve been mesmerized by RFID since the first time I saw it make an appearance in the still-frame above, from the original Mission Impossible (1996). Although I was around 6 at the time the movie came out, the application of RFID was so awesome that it just blew my mind. Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, has Emmanuelle Béart as Claire, place a tiny black tracker on the shoulder of the security key, holding individual who is about to get duped. They then proceed to track his every move within the building so that Hunt has just enough time to swoop down from the ceiling, steal the file, prevent that infamous sweat droplet from hitting the touch sensitive floor and make a getaway.

Well that’s enough Mission Impossible for now.

The way RFID works is elegant and brilliant. As its name suggests, the miniscule device operates mainly on radio waves. To simplify things, I’m only going to deal with passive RFID here.

An “RFID tag” (any object which has RFID incorporated), “includes a small RF” (standing for radio-frequency), “transmitter and receiver”. The receiver portion is prompted by an external RF reader to send the reader its current location. The transmitter responds by sending this specific tag’s location, via radio waves of course, wirelessly to the RF reader.

Ingeniously, passive RFID technology doesn’t require the device to have its own battery, as it can be powered solely by way of the radio waves it picks up!

Like most integrated circuits (also known as microprocessors or chips), RFID tags are made of silicon; hence Silicon Valley, California.

What’s really amazing about RFID is its seamless and low cost application to almost every type of product we use.

Two of my favorite applications are as follows:

  • An actual utilization of RFID which has already taken place has been the placement of tags within poker chips. This allows casinos to manage any attempts to fabricate chips and lets them check to see if any fakes have been sucked in by the casino. Additionally, if chips are stolen from a casino, the casino can immediately deactivate the chips’ RFID tags making the chips basically worthless to prevent future counterfeiting.
  • Another wild but much more practical use of RFID is in the supermarket. In the future, instead of waiting online to have each item scanned and then have customers swipe their credit cards or fork over cash, RFID will make grocery shopping virtually continuous. You’ll walk into the store and choose your items. Because each item has a RFID tag built in, when you’re done shopping, just leave. Later on you will be charged on your credit card remotely from the store, which will have a record of what each individual left the store with.

Although as of now, most of the more amazing applications are still being tested, for RFID tags, the sky’s the limit!

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