Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is an automatic identification method wherein the data stored on RFID tags or transponders is remotely retrieved. The RFID tag is a device that can be attached to or incorporated into a product, animal or person for identification and tracking using radio waves. Some tags can be read from several metres away, beyond the line of sight of the reader.
RFID technology is used in vehicle parking systems of malls and buildings (refer Fig. 1). The system normally consists of a vehicle counter, sensors, display board, gate controller, RFID tags and RFID reader. Presented here is an automatic vehicle parking system using AT89S52 microcontroller.
RFID system fundamentals
Basically, an RFID system consists of an antenna or coil, a transceiver (with decoder) and a transponder (RF tag) electronically programmed with unique information. There are many different types of RFID systems in the market. These are categorised on the basis of their frequency ranges. Some of the most commonly used RFID kits are low-frequency (30-500kHz), mid-frequency (900kHz-1500MHz) and high-frequency (2.4-2.5GHz).
Fig. 2 shows the internal diagram of a typical RFID antenna. The antenna emits radio signals to activate the tag and read/write data from/to it. It is the conduit between the tag and the transceiver, which controls the system’s data acquisition and communication.
Antennae are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. These can be built into a door frame to receive tag data from persons or things passing through the door, or mounted on an inter-state tollbooth to monitor the traffic passing by on a freeway. The electromagnetic field produced by the antenna can be constantly present when multiple tags are expected continually. If constant interrogation is not required, a sensor device can activate the field.
Often the antenna is packaged with a transceiver and decoder to act as a reader (interrogator), which can be configured either as a handheld or a fixed-mount device. The reader emits radio waves in the range of 2.5 cm to 30 metres or more, depending upon its power output and the radio frequency used. When an RFID tag passes through the electromagnetic zone, it detects the reader’s activation signal. The reader decodes the data encoded in the tag’s integrated circuit (silicon chip) and communicates to the host computer for processing.
Fig. 3 shows the internal structure of a typical RFID tag. It comprises a microchip containing identifying information about the item and an antenna that transmits this data wirelessly to the reader. At its most basic, the chip contains a serialised identifier or licence plate number that uniquely identifies that item (similar to bar codes). A key difference, however, is that RFID tags have a higher data capacity than their bar code counterparts. This increases the options for the type of information that can be encoded on the tag; it may include the manufacturer’s name, batch or lot number, weight, ownership, destination and history (such as the temperature range to which an item has been exposed). In fact, an unlimited list of other types of information can be stored on RFID tags, depending on the application’s requirements.
RFID tag can be placed on individual items, cases or pallets for identification purposes, as well as fixed assets such as trailers, containers and totes. There are different types of tags with varying capabilities:
1. Read-only tags contain such data as a serialised tracking number, which is pre-written onto these by the tag manufacturer or distributor. These are generally the least expensive tags as no additional information can be included when they move through the supply chain. Any update to the information has to be maintained in the application software that tracks the stock-keeping unit’s movement and activity.
2. Write-once tags enable the user to write data once in the production or distribution process. The data may include a serial number or lot or batch number.
3. Full read-write tags allow new data to be written to the tag—even over the original data—when needed. Examples include the time and date of ownership transfer or updating the repair history of a fixed asset. While these are the most costly of the three tag types and impractical for tracking inexpensive items, future standards for electronic product codes (EPCs) appear to be headed in this direction.