About this Article
Written by: Michael Bannon
Written on: May 4th, 2003
Tags: computer science, electrical engineering
Thumbnail by: Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
During Spring 2003, Michael Bannon was a junior at University of Southern California, working on his B.S. in Electrical Engineering. He transferred from Biola University, where he completed course work for a B.A. in Physical Science and a minor in Bible.
Stay Connected

Volume V Issue II > Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) and Their Implications for the Future
Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) are widely being hailed as the up-and-coming successor to barcodes. The superiority of RFID lies in its faster speed, rewriting capabilities, and the fact that the device need not be visible to be read. However, until the cost of RFID is lowered, barcodes will remain the prevalent technology. RFID works through a two-part system - the system scanner communicates with the tag through its antenna. This tag can be active or passive, battery-powered or powered by the signal received - both types contain read-only memory, but only active devices are rewritable. This technology has many current and future applications in retail, including the maintenance of a timely inventory and the tracking of traveling items.


Imagine going shopping the week before Christmas. What probably comes to mind are overcrowded stores, impatient shoppers and long checkout lines. Waiting in these lines can be tiring and frustrating. Now imagine a situation in which you put the items you wish to purchase in your shopping bag and simply exit the store. No, this is not a fictional society in which shoplifting is permitted. Rather, without even opening your bag, the appropriate amount of money is deducted from your bank account. You do not have wait while the cashier picks up each item, looks for the barcode, and scans it.
Does this sound too good be true? While this may sound like something from a futuristic movie, such technology already exists in the form of Radio Frequency Identification devices (RFID). Though not yet widespread, these devices may be as common as barcodes in a few years.
In this article, we compare RFID to barcodes and explore how different radio frequency identification devices work, underlining the difference between active and passive devices. By providing scenarios in which RFID is currently being used, we shall illustrate its implications for our lives in the future.

RFID vs. Barcodes

The first barcode was used on a pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit Gum in 1974. Since then, barcode use has spread to retail items, letters, packages, chemical containers, security badges, and coupons.
The most common use of barcodes is in retail; barcodes are present on nearly every retail product in the United States, used to hasten the processes of taking inventory and checking out [1]. Barcodes are also very cost effective. They save hours of time at a low cost: each scan costs only five cents [2].
While barcodes are extremely useful, they have two main limitations. The first is that only one barcode can be scanned at a time. Secondly, the barcode must be within the direct line of sight of the scanner. For instance, the barcode cannot be read from within a shopper's bag or if covered with dirt. Nor can it be read if fog, dust, or any other condition restricts visibility.