RFID Essentials

Reviewed by Major Keary

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is "a term that describes any system of identification wherein an electronic device that uses radio frequency or magnetic field variations to communicate is attached to an item" [Glover and Bart:

RFID Essentials].

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is "a term that describes any system of identification wherein an electronic device that uses radio frequency or magnetic field variations to communicate is attached to an item" [Glover and Bart: RFID Essentials]. There are three elements: the tag, a reader, and middleware. The commonly used systems used by retail stores to detect merchandise being taken from the premises are not RFID, but are one-use devices and do not have the third component, middleware. Tracking systems that provide information about the whereabouts of, say, a parcel are not RFID because they rely on line-of-sight barcode scanners. The well-established technology of implanting microchips into animals is RFID.

The tag is an electronic device capable of storing information and transmitting that information. Some tags can be rewritten multiple times. The reader does not require line-of-sight or any particular alignment to read the tag's data, and can read multiple tags (such as on a pallet of identical or mixed items). The middleware is software functioning as a conversion or translation layer that converts and reformats data for use in another system.

Typically the system is used to track merchandise: a tag is attached to an item; the tag notifies a reader of its presence; the reader recognises the presence of the tag and reads the information stored on it; the reader then communicates that information, by way of the middleware, to an application that may be built into the reader or be installed on a server.

Other applications include access control (wave the magic card and a door opens); monitoring the status of items (such as length of time a pharmaceutical product has been out of refrigeration); management of shipments; and tracking tools in a maintenance environment (for example, recording which ones touched a piece of work).

RFID Essentials is described as being "for developers, system and software architects, and project managers, as well as students and professionals in all the industries" affected by the technology and who want to understand how it works.

It certainly meets that goal, but deserves a wider audience. Any informed lay reader with an interest in a more than superficial understanding of RFID should find the book interesting and informative. The reason for that is twofold: the exceptionally good writing, and the authors' focus on the technology at large rather than attempting to drill down to the (very small) nuts-and-bolts of particular mechanisms.

A discussion of middleware is illustrated by code examples, but the rest of the content is, with one or two exceptions, straight text supported by excellent diagrams and flow charts. The graphics are a valuable resource in their own right for people who have to develop presentations on the way RFID works.

For anyone involved in the planning of RFID implementation this text provides a comprehensive review of the technology at large and the physical devices used in various RFID applications. As well as the physical and technology faces of RFID the book discusses privacy issues in the context of providing for the disabling of RFID tags.

Appendices contain: an explanation of Electronic Product Code (EPC) identity codings—commonly applied in the form of bar codes—that use 96-bit strings, and the various GS1 (formerly known as EAN) encodings; a useful glossary; and a list of references.

An outstanding example of technical communication that can even be recommended to highly paid help in the board room.

Bill Glover and Himanshu Bhatt: RFID Essentials
ISBN 0-596-00944-5
Published by O'Reilly, 260 pp., RRP AU$ 74.95

The Australian distributor is Woodslane <www.woodslane.com.au>

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