Radiofrequency Technology is widely used in a range of industrial and commercial contexts today for automatic detection, identification, and tracking of objects, people or vehicles. From personal access control in buildings to vehicle entry into business premises, and from managing books in a library to tracking portable medical devices in a hospital, it has numerous applications that reduce costs and increase productivity.
What is Radiofrequency (RFID) Technology?
The term RFID stands for ‘Radio Frequency Identification.’ This technology uses electromagnetic radiation in particular frequency ranges to automatically detect, identify, track, and trace objects or people typically in a commercial or industrial environment. The RFID system detects and identifies the person, object or vehicle automatically and takes action such as allowing access or registering their presence in a log.
How does an RFID system work?
The RFID system typically has two parts: a control system and an RFID tag. The control system is usually stationary and installed at a set location, whereas the RFID tag stays with the object, person, or the vehicle that is to be detected or tracked.
The RFID tag typically has a microchip circuit which holds relevant identification information of the entity to be detected and an antenna. A flat smart-card or a plastic sticker can incorporate all of these elements. The control system houses a transmitter/receiver that produces radiofrequency radiation to read the data on the tag. It then verifies if the information matches the data in its stored database. If yes, it means the entity is authorised, and the system grants it access. If not, it will deny access.
The RFID tags come in two types, namely the Passive Tag and the Active Tag:
Passive Tag: A passive tag does not generate any radiation by itself, but merely responds to the radiation generated by the control circuitry at the checkpoint. It only includes the microchip that carries relevant identification data and the antenna, which is all incorporated into a smart card or a thin sticker. Hence it is light, small, and less expensive.
Active Tag: The active tag usually generates radiation by itself. The access control circuit at the entry point detects this radiation and grants access based on the authorisation check. It has a battery to generate power and so is heavier and larger than the passive tag, as well as more expensive. However, it has its advantages like uninterrupted functioning even when there is interference and the possibility of live tracking of objects.
The radiation generated by an RFID system could be in various ranges such as Low (LF), High (HF), Ultra-high (UHF), and Microwave frequencies. The entire range roughly stretches from 120kHz to 2.45GHz and higher. The higher the frequency, the stronger the transmission and the longer the detection range.
Is RFID Technology safe to use?
When it comes to a discussion of the safety of RFID devices and technology, the primary concern must be any harmful effects the electromagnetic radiations could have on people. A great deal of research has been conducted on possible health hazards from microwave radiation over the years. However, to date no study has proved beyond doubt that any of these devices are carcinogenic, that is, capable of causing cancer.
One of the noteworthy studies was conducted by IARC Monograph, part of the WHO. The study found inadequate evidence linking electromagnetic fields with cancer. However, since it is not possible to draw firm conclusions with only a few years’ observation, the IARC study has included electromagnetic fields in the 2B classification, which is the code for ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans.’ It means that even though there is no current evidence for carcinogenicity, it is advisable to continue to monitor further research.
The 2B classification includes any device working with radiofrequency, including mobile phones and microwave ovens, and many common substances and food materials such as whole-leaf Aloe Vera extract, petrol and red meat. Generally, electromagnetic radiation devices work within the safe range stipulated by regulations. For instance, you can be subjected to maximum radiation exposure of 50W/m2 (Watts per square metre) while using a microwave oven.
In a typical RFID setup, the tracked individuals, objects, and vehicles have a passive RFID tag with them, and not an active one. This means that it generates zero radiation and hence is entirely safe to carry around. It only responds to the radiation transmitted by the RFID control circuit, which only occurs for a brief moment at the checkpoint.
RFID Technology is a highly useful invention that has allowed the development of better access control systems. Especially with the present demand for contactless and hands-free devices, RFID access control is highly useful, as it does not require human contact. Indeed, you don’t even to wave your access card in front of a detecting device.
An RFID card can stay in your wallet or bag, and the system still identifies you. Even though RFID systems use electromagnetic radiation, extensive studies have not found any link to cancer or any other hazards. Therefore, it is fairly safe to say that these systems are safe for businesses to use, and enjoy efficient access management, while reducing overhead.