Home : Hardware Terms : RFID Definition


Stands for "Radio-Frequency Identification." RFID is a system used to track objects, people, or animals using tags that respond to radio waves. RFID tags are integrated circuits that include a small antenna. The are typically small enough that they are not easily noticeable and therefore can be placed on many types of objects.

Like UPC labels, RFID tags are often used to uniquely identify the object they are attached to. However, unlike UPCs, RFID tags don't need to be scanned directly with a laser scanner. Instead, they can be recorded by simply placing the tag within the range of an RFID radio transmitter. This makes it possible to quickly scan several items or to locate a specific product surrounded by many other items.

RFID tags have many different uses. Some examples include:

  • Merchandise tags - These tags are attached to clothing, electronics, and other products to prevent theft from retail stores. These tags are typically deactivated at the place of checkout. Tags that have not been deactivated will sound the alarm system near the store's exit.
  • Inventory management - Products stored in warehouses may be given RFID tags so they can be located more easily.
  • Airplane luggage - RFID tags may be placed on checked bags so they can be easily tracked and located.
  • Toll booth passes - E-ZPass and I-Pass receivers may be placed in automobiles, allowing cars and trucks to pass through toll booths without needing to stop. This enables drivers to make toll payments automatically.
  • Credit cards - Some credit cards have built-in RFIDs so they can be "waved" rather than "swiped" near compatible readers. The SpeedPass wand is an example of an RFID-only payment device.
  • Animal tags - RFID tags can be placed pet collars to make help identify pets if they are lost. Tags may also be placed on birds and other animals to help track them for research purposes.
The above list includes just a few of the applications of radio-frequency identification. There are many other existing and potential applications for RFID tags as well.

Updated: September 4, 2009

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