Whether it’s allowing access to events like concerts or tradeshows or managing events at museums or aquariums, we have all seen RFID (radio frequency identification) Badges, but do we really understand how they work or what they can do for us?
What are RFID Badges?
RFID Badges can take many different shapes and forms. Metalcraft RFID Badges are a specialized RFID product using a tag structure that has an encapsulated RFID inlay in between pieces of polymer, i.e., polyester or polycarbonate. The tag may or may not have a barcode on it and showcases company and/or event graphics with photographic like detail.
What are the different types of RFID?
There are three different types of RFID – active, passive, and semi-active. There are advantages and disadvantages to each one.
Active Tags are the most complex of the different tag types. They are powered by their own batteries and have an integrated circuit, antenna and onboard transmitter. They emit a signal that can be detected by a reader up to several hundred feet away. With the increased functionality of active tags comes a higher price tag and a shorter lifespan.
Passive Tags are typically comprised of only an integrated circuit and an antenna. They do not have a battery and must instead be powered by using electromagnetic energy transmitted from the RFID reader through inductive coupling when dealing with high frequencies or through backscatter if you’re working with UHF. Passive tags have a shorter read range than active tags. They are a less expensive option than their active counterparts, but have a much, much longer lifespan.
Semi-Active Tags are a bit of a compromise between the active and passive tags. They are made up of an integrated circuit, an antenna and a battery. Because they have their own battery, semi-active tags allow for additional device functionality like active tags. However, without an onboard transmitter, they gain no benefit in terms of read range, and their battery puts them in the same category as active tags for their decreased lifespan.
How do RFID Badges work?
RFID Badges work the same as any other RFID tag. The number programmed to the RFID inlay is associated to information about the participant and/or event. That information is accessible in the database on the backend. The RFID Badges can be used to allow access into an event, i.e., concert, etc., enhance the user experience by using user preferences to customize the experience, or they can be used for a cashless payment system.
How are RFID tags made?
How RFID tags are made depends on the type of RFID tag wanted. The tag can be as simple as an inlay with adhesive, commonly referred to as a wet inlay. This is a down and dirty RFID tag often used for short term type of applications in mild environments. Metalcraft RFID tags are encapsulated in different constructions based on application and environment. Standard RFID tags can be made of paper or other polymer materials with the RFID inlay encapsulated or “sandwiched” between the layers of adhesive and then an attachment adhesive. RFID Hang tags are similar to standard RFID tags encapsulating the RFID inlay but using thicker materials without an adhesive backing and typically a hole for mechanical fasteners.
There are also more customized RFID tags for specialty applications, i.e., RFID windshield tags, metal mount RFID tags, etc. Each one of these tags takes a different manufacturing process. RFID converters have equipment specifically designed to convert and program RFID tags. For more information on RFID converting check out our blog.
Do RFID tags need batteries?
Short answer – yes and no. It depends on the type of RFID tags you are wanting. Active RFID tags have a battery allowing them to have extremely long read ranges and additional functionalities. However, the battery in an active RFID tag increases the price and decreases the lifespan. Passive RFID tags do not have a battery. They use the energy transmitted from the reader to “wake up” and consequently have shorter read ranges, lower price tag and longer lifespan. Semi-active RFID tags also have a battery and utilize it much the same way that active RFID tags do.
Can you be tracked through RFID?
RFID is often mistaken for GPS (global positioning service) or RTLS (real time locating solution). People often imagine following RFID tags like blips on a computer screen and track them wherever they go. That is a misconception. Radio frequency identification tracks the number programmed to the integrated circuit (IC) on an RFID inlay. While technically you could track movements with an active RFID tag, passive RFID tags are only read when they are in the proximity of a reader that is on so tracking movement is not a viable solution.
Can RFID Badges be hacked?
First, we need to make the differentiation between being read and being hacked. An RFID reader can read the RFID tags or “see” the number programmed to them, but what good does that do? It doesn’t allow anyone access to the information stored in the database. To the casual observer it is simply a number. That is because at its core, RFID technology is an extremely secure technology.
The way RFID tags are programmed can make them more secure as well. Some systems integrators use propriety programming thereby creating a closed loop system. In addition, standard RFID tags can be locked during programming if that extra layer of security is required. For efficiency sake we always recommend using a license plate approach and programming only a serial number to the RFID tag which is associated to information in the database on the backend. That makes it easier to change information and/or reassign a specific badge essentially providing another level of security.
For more information on RFID Badges or to discuss your potential application contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Colynn Black