Home RFID -- Radio Frequency Identification

More Than Another Merchant Theft Deterrent

You have heard about Lo-Jack?  They put a radio transmitter in your car with a GPS sensor and when your car is stolen, the police can find it immediately by remotely activating the transmitter in your car.  BTW, the GM On Star  can find you anywhere.  Lo-Jack only finds you in specified areas.  I think future GPS transmission systems will eliminate Lo-Jack.

You have seen those little magnetic strip thingies in packages that set off the theft alarms when you leave a store.   You know, the little white plastics thingies that the salesperson rubs against the demagnetize built into the counter top?

Well, RFID goes one step further than either of these.   The RFID is a little tag that goes into the product and sends its bar code as a radio signal when it receives a trigger signal.   Since this is a merchant thing and not a consumer thing, you have not heard much about it.   I knew about it but not its name or how close it is to being here.  It is close.  Wal-Mart will be using it by Christmas.

RFID does several things for the merchant.  Unlike the magnetic strips that set off the theft alarm as they pass by the gate at the door, these will continue to transmit their code until they burn out.  If you are shoplifting, you can be followed all the way home.  High-sticker items can be identified as stolen for days.   This should be a significant deterrent to shoplifters.

You have seen these do-it-yourself checkouts with the bar code readers and very sensitive scales holding your checked merchandise?  RFID goes one step further.   You go to the checkout and all of the little thingies identify themselves and your receipt is printed and your card charged automatically.  You do not have to register each thing, one at a time.  Frightening.

You have seen the signs that say you cannot take merchandise into the rest room?   Well, now ‘they’ will know when you do.

The Number of the Beast

You know that I am not a bible thumper so where does this come from?  On TV news today they have shown a corporation which has inserted RFID chips in the forearms of its employees so that they do not have badges to lose and can be instantly identified going to and from secure areas.  RFID is serious business.  Wireless technology is changing your life in so many directions that even the experts can not tell you all of its arms.  I am not saying this is bad.  I am just waving a flag to get your attention.

Range

The range of these things is already phenomenal.  From little rice-size pellets to snuggle under your cat's ear to little wands that fit on a key chain to multi-layer labels on individual merchandise items.

The things can be passive, or active,  chip signal first or reader signal first, or a whole bunch of options depending upon the needs of the user..

Gasoline pumps read the wands,   Automatic cash registers read the tags.  The veterinarian's reader reads the pellet.  The police read the little pellet hidden in the stolen valuables.  And so one.

Problems

Right now there is no single standard for data content or radio signals. Radio frequencies are regulated. These are the same things they are putting into dogs and cats for identification and health information. The product information is being setup differently. This cannot take off in mass expansion until standards are fulfilled.

Identity theft issues become critical when the checkout is automatic. Right now the signatures that you scribble in on the computer touch pad is now well verified. I know -- I wrote with the wrong hand with the wrong slant and changed it so that I couldn't recognize what I wrote. It was still accepted. This must be fixed. Surveillance cameras will be watching every checkout. The clerk at the end of the aisle watching and helping will need to take classes in theft recognition. The RFID helps a lot but thieves are innovative and everywhere. The more automatic, the more ways to get past the checkout police. The more we de-personalize our world, the more de-persons creep in. I do not have an answer.

Infineon, GWB, and Passports

The USA has finally joined the world: you need a passport to travel, or at least return from travels.  The new passports have an embedded RFID chip.  Infineon makes the chip.  Infineon is a German company.  Why have an American company make chips for American passports when you can get a second-rate foreign company make you a nice chip with built-in defects?  Second-rate?  I have had to program around their hardware shortcuts and lack of unit testing.  The bottom line?  The RFID chips can be programmed in different manners giving slightly different security features.  The USA chose the configuration which permits the passport information to be read by anyone with an RFID reader.  You can buy these readers online -- and the choice involved non-reversible equipment investment.

Credit Cards

Credit cards are now coming with RFID chips inside.  This is not a bad idea but again it matters how the chip is programmed to know whether it can be read as you walk down the street.  A piece of aluminum foil on the outside layer (on both sides) of your wallet will prevent or reduce this problem.  This may get the attention of some zealous airport security scanner.

References

The RFID Journal  The Authority on RFID.

The Technical Journal for RFID

Consequences

Super fast checkouts.  Seriously reduced shoplifting.  A price rise to add the RFID but hopefully it is offset by the reduced cost of stolen items.  The thingies are not so visible but their effect should be very visible.

Commentary

2005 -- May

RFID, Your Dog, and Your doggie Door

In 1990, 15 years ago, I lived in Boca Raton, Florida.  You can read about that.  We lived in a house with a screened porch with a lake for a back yard.  We had two cats.  I installed a doggie door in the screen door for the cats.  .BUt we did NOT put a doggie door in a sliding glass door into the house.  In a rational place, we would have done this.  In Florida, there are raccoons.  In most places, raccoons are cute little animals, often with a temper, that are pretty shy but very conniving.  In Florida they get the size of a medium-size dog and have log legs and are ugly and are not shy.  They found it difficult to crawl through the doggie door and just came through the screen.  They did this when the cats were not around because the cats would defend their food.

The problem here was that this would have been unnecessary if we could have been selective about who came through the doggie door.  I drew up elaborate plans and passed them out to a few friends.  The concept was to have an electric latch on the doggie door, a radio receiver activating the latch, and a radio transmitter on the pet collar.  I should have patented it but I did not.

Now the technology is here and I still do not see pet-activated doggie doors.  RFID chips are currently being implanted into pets on a regular basis.  The concept of a radio activated latch for a doggie door can not be unique to me.  The RFID chips already in the pet may not be sufficient in strength to be detected by the door receiver but a somewhat larger one could still be added to the pet collar.  So people, if no one has already patented this idea because I was to lazy to do so, you are too late.  This page is on the World Wide Web and this description is sufficiently accurate to make the idea public domain.

2005 -- August

Martha Stewart Wore an Anklet

You want a real joke?  Martha Stewart wore a stupid, big, ugly ankle bracelet.  It did not have to be stupid, big, and ugly.  It could have been a beautiful, gold plated chain around her neck with the same results.  RFID is here.  They put RFID chips in poker chips and playing cards and price tags on T-shirts.  They did not need a big, ugly ankle bracelet.  The government wanted to make an example of Martha Stewart and an invisible necklace did not set the Republican Big Brother tone as well as her shackle.

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Written:  2004          Updated:  November 15, 2009          Back To Top