An independent news service reporting on developments
regarding the use of radio based transponder systems for commerce and scientific
applications. Covering the RFID technologies, EAS technologies and magnetic
Current trends in transponder systems
Major successes using RFID technologies in use today are:
- Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS)
- Market penetration of this technology is already reportedly reaching
6 000 million units per year and growing strongly. However there is still
lack of standardisation between the different manufacturers, which causes
confusion with the end users.
- Shipping Container and railcar tracking
- One of the early success of transponder technology and fast becoming
a global system. Based around electric coupled transponders that are attached
to each container and railcar, being read at speed by readers alongside
the rail track. One manufacturer claims to have already labelled 4 million
rolling stock items using this technology.
- Animal tracking
- Originally a series of magnetic implantable transponders were developed
for tracking slaughter animals. Unfortunately success in this application
has been poor mainly due to lack of acceptance by the relevant authorities.
- The labelling of pets so that they can be identified and returned to
the owners has become a major consumer of RFID systems. Some municipalites
require all pet dogs withing their jurisdiction to be identifyable via
an embedded transponder that is injected under the skin. Small RFID transponders,
8mm long and less than 1 mm in diameter, have been developed that are suitable
for injecting under the skin of the pet. The data within the transponder
can be read using a scanner a couple of inches from the animal.
- Implantable and external transponders are being successfully applied
in the research of the habits of wildlife, both fish and animals.
- Prior to 1997, cows had usually been labelled by ear tags that combined
a visual reference with an RFID transponder. A new series of RFID tags
have recently been developed called Ruminary tags, tags that are encased
in a tough plastic case which can be fed to the cow with its food, and
will reside in the stomach of the cow for the life of the animal. These
tags are resistant to attack by the acids in the stomach and operate using
magnetic coupling techniques with readers outside the animal.
- Vehicle access and control
- Electric field coupled transponders have been used for many years to
allow vehicle access to garages in buildings. Generally these transponders
are relatively expensive but as they are reuseable, and are attached to
expensive cars, their use is cost effective.
- Personnel access
- Personnel access has long been facilitated by RF transponder technologies.
This solution has not been widely accepted, mainly due to the limited reading
range, relatively expensive technology, and the success of the magswipe
cards as a viable alternative.
- Production control
- Most probably led by the automobile industry, many factories use transponders
to identify and trace their goods during the manufacture process. These
transponders are generally sophisticated, including read write features,
and are reused once the manufacturing process has been completed.
- Ski passes
- For many years magnetic based transponder technology has been used
in ski passes, allowing its identity to be read through ski clothing at
access points to ski lifts, etc
- Sports Timing
- Particularly for long distance racing and for marathon racing, the
use of transpoinders for timing is becoming more common place. Currently
the preferred technology is to use a small 125kHz transponder attached
to the shoe of the athlete which is read by the athlete tramping on one
or more sensor mats across the timing line. The technology records the
presence of the athlete but is not suitable for accurate timing as it can
only sense the time when the athletes foot touches one of a number of mats.
900 Mhz technology has been recently used in South Africa and this might
be very promising in such applications, as besides having 4 to 6 meter
reading ranges allowing overhead antennas to sense the athletes, timing
accuracies better than 2 tenths of a second seem possible
- Document authentication
- A system of providing a radio frequency "signature" for documents
is becoming commercially available. The system comprises printed radio
frequency antennas attached to precut crystal resonators. The interrogating
frequency of the reader sweeps through the reading frequency band, causing
the crystal resonators to resonate when excited at the correct frequency.
By choosing frequencies to indicate specific data, documents can be given
a radio signature that can be used for verification of documents. Novel
applications include the enabling or preventing of photocopying of certain
documents depending on their signature.
- The matrix comprising the antenna and crystals can have a footprint
as small as a postage stamp and is available even in a thin layered paste.
Currently the developers claim 400 million such radio frequency signature
transponders are now in circulation.
- Dairy tagging
- This technology is widely accepted throughoutthe world, particularly
for identifying cows in a dairy. By using eartags a computer system is
able to identify the cow when close to the reader. This identification
allows a computer to record the milk output of the cow and also allows
it to provide the correct feed mixture to the particular cow while it is
being milked. These feature allows a few staff to manage a large herd and
also to change the diet of the cow through different phases of its milking
cycle. Recently an Australian State has called for a marking system to
be applied to all herd animals in the region.
- Petrol and chemical dispensing
- Companies conveying different chemicals in road and rail tankers are
seeking technologies to allow computer verification that the tanker is
only filled from the correct nozzle in order to prevent contamination of
product. This has resulted in developments of transponder systems suitable
for attaching to the filling nozzles and computer compatible reading equipment
to verify the identification of the nozzle and the tanker before allowing
A recent patent proposes extending this principle to petrol stations. By
placing a small transponder alongside the filler cap of motor vehicle's
fuel tank, whereby the pump can sense the users requirements automatically
to dispense the correct fuel grade as well as authenticate the accounting
For identifying customers and debiting their credit cards with the appropriate
charges, two major petrol companies are trying out transponder systems.
Mobil is using Speedpass and Shell is calling its system EasyPay. Transponders
are either windscreen mounted, operating at the 900 or 2.45GHz band which
communicate with reading equipment situated in the pump alongside which
the motorist pulls up, or they are 125Khz magnetic coupled versions in
a key ring holder, where the motorist swipes the transponder over a reader
at the pump to provide identity details. TIRIS have aligned with a pump
manufacturer to provide systems complete with pumps.
- Enviromental monitoring of transport environment
- A company in Canada has recently developed an active tag with a large
memory, programmable microprocessor, sensors and RFID communications interfaces
that allow the tag to monitor at regular intervals the enviromental conditions
experienced by the tag and its labelled cargo while in transit. This could
have application in the shipping of for example frozen goods allowing the
recipient to verify that their shipping requirements were adhered to.
In addition there are many different successful applications of the
technology, but most probably not yet at the level of being a "trend".
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