The RFID Option
RFID has come a long way since Charles Walton’s 1983 U.S. patent—the first to be associated with the acronym. His invention, designed to facilitate quick and accurate identification of remotely located objects, used an identifier for generating and transmitting a signal in the radio frequency range, allowing data communication without physical connection.
Today, Doug Seitz, manager of the RFID/thermal portfolio for Boulder, Colorado-based InfoPrint Solutions (IPS), observed the list of industries and items incorporating RFID is steadily expanding. From tracking surgical sponges in the operating room, fish in public aquariums and kids at amusement parks, to opening car doors, managing inventory and serving toll road applications, RFID usage is on the rise. “One measure of technolog[ical] success is the diversity of interesting ways the technology is absorbed into daily life without fanfare,” he said.
Seitz referred to RFID-enabled car key fobs as examples of the technology’s rate of diffusion and pervasiveness of implementation, while its growing use in RTLS (Real Time Location Systems) for monitoring people in hazardous environments could actually save lives. “But, I have to admit, the aquarium that tags fish and flashes their identity on a screen as they swim by the glass certainly caught me by surprise,” he added.
Certainly, supply chain applications became visible very quickly with mandates from Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense. “But, technologies may take years to gain the hardened stability to mature from pilot status to robust infrastructure,” Seitz continued. “They grow organically from tiny seedlings to forests.”
Risk, Effort, Adoption
Undoubtedly, there are some issues associated with RFID that have the marketplace weighing the perceived value of utilizing the technology now, versus waiting until the issues have been addressed. RFID tag costs remain relatively expensive compared to a bar-coded tag, for instance, and Seitz acknowledged that metal containers and those filled with liquid can pose challenges for UHF RFID reader frequencies.