RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) is a wireless communication technology that stores data about items and allows information to be extracted using radio waves (not light).
RFID promises to replace bar codes for many data capture applications. In comparison to barcodes, RFID does not require physical contact or line of sight for the data to be read, can be read at very high speeds, and can operate in hostile environments such as heat, cold and moisture. Many RFID devices have a read/write capability and can store information other than the item identity. More advanced RFID devices can include sensors (e.g. for temperature measurement) with data logging capabilities.
RFID technology has been available for many years and used for applications such as animal tagging, vehicle tolling and security passes. However, it is only recently that the declining cost and the creation of global standards for RFID has made it attractive to retail and supply chain organizations for the automation of many supply chain management tasks.
This lack of standards has been remedied by the creation of EPCglobal, an international body comprising industry leaders and other organizations that are focused on creating global industry-driven standards for the Electronic Product Code™ (EPC) to support the use of RFID.
This growth has been supported by a push from leading global organizations such as Wal-Mart and the U.S. Department of Defense to conduct pilot trials and adopt RFID technology in their operations. At present, their attention is mainly focused on the application of RFID at the pallet and carton level.
It is expected that once RFID chip costs fall to a sufficiently low level, widespread adoption and application at the item level will occur. In addition, regulatory requirements will force the use of RFID in industries such as food, pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
RFID was named one of the Top 25 Innovations in the past quarter century by CNN in an article available online.