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Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is the use of an object (typically referred to as an RFID tag) applied to or incorporated into a product, animal, or person for the purpose of identification and tracking using radio waves. Some tags can be read from several meters away and beyond the line of sight of the reader.

Most RFID tags contain at least two parts. One is an integrated circuit for storing and processing information, modulating and demodulating a radio-frequency (RF) signal, and other specialized functions. The second is an antenna for receiving and transmitting the signal.

There are generally two types of RFID tags: active RFID tags, which contain a battery and thus can transmit its signal autonomously, and passive RFID tags, which have no battery and require an external source to initiate signal transmission.

Today, RFID is used in enterprise supply chain management to improve the efficiency of inventory tracking and management.

In 1946 Léon Theremin invented an espionage tool for the Soviet Union which retransmitted incident radio waves with audio information. Sound waves vibrated a diaphragm which slightly altered the shape of the resonator, which modulated the reflected radio frequency. Even though this device was a passive covert listening device, not an identification tag, it is considered to be a predecessor of RFID technology. The technology used in RFID has been around since the early 1920s according to one source (although the same source states that RFID systems have been around just since the late 1960s).[1][2][3][4]

Similar technology, such as the IFF transponder invented in the United Kingdom in 1939, was routinely used by the allies in World War II to identify aircraft as friend or foe. Transponders are still used by most powered aircrafts to this day.

Another early work exploring RFID is the landmark 1948 paper by Harry Stockman, titled "Communication by Means of Reflected Power" (Proceedings of the IRE, pp 1196–1204, October 1948). Stockman predicted that "…considerable research and development work has to be done before the remaining basic problems in reflected-power communication are solved, and before the field of useful applications is explored."

Mario Cardullo's U.S. Patent 3,713,148 in 1973 was the first true ancestor of modern RFID; a passive radio transponder with memory. The initial device was passive, powered by the interrogating signal, and was demonstrated in 1971 to the New York Port Authority and other potential users and consisted of a transponder with 16 bit memory for use as a toll device. The basic Cardullo patent covers the use of RF, sound and light as transmission media. The original business plan presented to investors in 1969 showed uses in transportation (automotive vehicle identification, automatic toll system, electronic license plate, electronic manifest, vehicle routing, vehicle performance monitoring), banking (electronic check book, electronic credit card), security (personnel identification, automatic gates, surveillance) and medical (identification, patient history).

A very early demonstration of reflected power (modulated backscatter) RFID tags, both passive and semi-passive, was performed by Steven Depp, Alfred Koelle, and Robert Freyman at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1973[2]. The portable system operated at 915 MHz and used 12-bit tags. This technique is used by the majority of today's UHFID and microwave RFID tags.

The first patent to be associated with the abbreviation RFID was granted to Charles Walton in 1983 U.S. Patent 4,384,288 .


Hitachi holds the record for smallest RFID at 150 x 150 x 7.5 microns -- manufacture enabled by using the Silicon-on-Insulator (SOI) process manufacturing. This "dust" sized chips can store 38-digit numbers using 128-bit Read Only Memory (ROM). [5]. A major challenge is the attachment of the antennae.

Potential alternatives to the radio frequencies (0.125–0.1342, 0.140–0.1485, 13.56, and 868–928 MHz) used are seen in optical RFID (or OPID) at 333 THz (900nm), 380 THz (788 nm), 750 THz (400 nm). [6]. The awkward antennae of RFID can be replaced with photovoltaic components and IR-LEDs on the ICs.