We’ll start with a quick review of how an RFID system operates. An RFID tag on an asset (thing) is read by an RFID reader. The reader communicates the tag data to the RFID middleware. In turn, the RFID middleware communicates the RFID tag data to the business system where it is stored in a database. The business system data can then be made accessible to the Internet. With this being the case, anyone in the world with access to the Internet could potentially see data about the things the RFID tags were placed upon.
RFID readers are used to power the RFID tags and read or capture their data. RFID readers are also used to program or encode RFID tags with a unique ID. There are basically two types of readers, commonly referred to as fixed readers and handheld readers.
There are two types of fixed reader technology: Wide Area Monitoring and Portals. Wide Area Monitoring readers provide the ability to read many RFID tags over a large floor space. These types of readers typically have internal antennas. Portal readers are used to capture RFID tags as they move through a choke point such as a doorway, a dock door, or in and out of a work area. These readers typically have external antennas.
Handheld or mobile readers are available for all types of devices — from the industrial-strength readers from manufacturers like Zebra and Honeywell, to readers designed for use on consumer devices like smartphones. There are even compact Bluetooth readers that can connect to just about anything.
Now that things are visible to the Internet using RFID, we can use the technology to report what those assets are doing. This means that we can use RFID to report the movement of things through a business process. The RFID middleware has powerful filtering algorithms that allow us to configure the RFID system to only report RFID tag data when important business events occur.
An example of this would be a shipping application — where as a shipment is staged to be loaded on a truck, the RFID system captures each thing as it is staged at the shipping dock. Once the shipment is staged, it can then be verified complete against a bill of lading. As the things are loaded on the truck, the RFID system will report those things as “On Truck” by seeing them move through a dock door portal.
Another example would be tracking high-value assets like tools. An RFID system can see the location of an important tool and report on its movement from location to location.
How is this possible?
Each antenna in an RFID system generates its own radio frequency field. These fields are given a unique name in the RFID middleware. A typical RFID reader supports four antennas or four unique fields. We can array the four unique fields around the target location and configure the RFID middleware to only report tags that move from field to field.
A thing sitting static in one of the fields may not be reported, or may be reported only one time — but when the tag moves from that field to the next field the RFID system will report that movement. The report might be named “Entered Tool Crib” or “Exited Tool Crib.”
Now you can definitively see that the target tool is in the crib or that it left for another location. So now not only are your things visible to the Internet, but what those things are doing is also visible on the Internet.
These real-world applications show how a passive RFID system truly does make the Internet of Things a reality. The ability to provide data on what those things are doing furthers the value proposition of RFID technology. Customers can see what their things are doing, which improves customer satisfaction. Manufacturers can see their things throughout production, which improves efficiency.
Overall, important assets can be tracked and better utilized. It is safe to say that applying RFID technology to the Internet of Things can and will enable businesses to achieve levels of performance operationally and financially not seen before.
For more information on this topic, visit Part I of “How Does Passive RFID Technology Enable the Internet of Things?”