How RFID is Making the IoT More Agile and Aware

RFID, short for Radio Frequency Identification, is a natural for Internet of Things applications.
RFID, short for Radio Frequency Identification, is a natural for Internet of Things applications.

You encounter RFID a dozen times a day, even if you aren’t aware of it.

RFID – short for Radio Frequency Identification – is a technology that allows information that’s been encoded in small, often completely unpowered tags to be read by scanning devices using radio waves. You can think of RFID tags like bar codes – except that they don’t need to show bar codes visually. And, while bar code readers usually have to be in near-physical contact, RFID works at stand-off distances – often, scanners don’t even need to have line of sight with the tag it’s reading.

Used In More and More Applications

RFID appears in a staggering array of applications, including everyday consumer products. Many automobiles, for example, rely on RFID tags embedded in key fobs to allow for push-button engine starts. So, too, do security badges that unlock doors in office buildings or allow access to residential buildings. And E-Z pass-style toll road payment systems are RFID-based as well. Payment bracelets at resorts and entertainment venues are usually RFID-powered, as are the badges that marathon runners wear to record their race performance.

And that doesn’t include the countless industrial and retail applications for RFID, such as tracking inventory on the retail floor and in the warehouse. Many RFID tags are complete passive (and as such, are staggeringly inexpensive, at just a few pennies each) but powered RFID tags, useful in enterprise applications because they let scanners stand off a much greater distance, exist as well. Powered tags generally include a transmitter and batteries, and can cost anywhere from $10-50 each. Bottom line: In as much as a technology can be ubiquitous, RFID qualifies – even though most people are relatively unfamiliar with it.

RFID and IoT Applications

And of course, RFID is a natural for Internet of Things applications.

One of the most common and cost-effective use cases for RFID is inventory management. A manual inventory system that might previously have taken hundreds of hours for a handful of employees to complete can now be done in just a couple of hours, virtually autonomously. In some situations, a scanner can be centrally mounted and automatically scan tags affixed to products as they pass by – which is great for warehouse entry and exit tracking, for example – while human-led inventories can be quickly and easily performed with a handheld scanner that connects to a backend database.

RFID applications extend out of the warehouse and onto the retail floor. Scanners can inform when products are moved around the store or even when they’re picked up off the shelf – analytics can be used to determine why certain products are handled, evaluated, and ultimately put back down without making the sale – the “always the bridesmaid” syndrome.

RFID can help capture useful data

Moreover, RFID tags can capture lots of useful information about a product – not just what it is, but, in the case of perishables, data like their expiration dates as well. And that means that an IoT can know not just where your products are and how many you have, but exactly when they will expire and need to be rotated, discounted, or discarded.

Meanwhile, in healthcare, it’s not just products which can be tagged, but people as well. Patients can be issues RFID-equipped bracelets, and their movements can be tracked with scanners mounted at entranceways and hallways. This ensures that staff always know the location of patients, particularly elderly and other at-risk individuals who need to be monitored.

Tracking Meds

Likewise, medication is increasingly RFID-tracked, especially for at-risk patients who need to be carefully monitored but are living outside of facility care. One way to ensure that patients take their indicated medication is to RFID-tag medication bottles, and employ scanners to register when patients pick up the bottles. An IoT system can monitor to make sure the right containers are moved the proper number of times (and at the right times) through the day. If the schedule is missed, automated alerts can be sent to caregivers.