The concept of radio waves was originally proposed in the 1800s with the first theory on electromagnetic energy being published in 1864 by James Clerk Maxwell. Heinrich Rudolf Hertz performed the first experiment using radio waves was in 1887, confirming Maxwell’s theory (Landt).
The earliest use of RFID however, was not until World War II. The British used it to identify incoming aircrafts. They called this system Identity Friend or Foe (IFF) (Hameed).
During the 1960s and 1970s, RFID developed further. In the late 1960s, electronic article surveillance (EAS) equipment was developed to help prevent merchandise theft. At this time, the EAS RFID tags ranged from small single-bit tags to multibit tags that were the size of a loaf of bread.
EAS tags are still used today and are most often found on electronics, clothing, and more expensive merchandise. The tags are either detached or disarmed during the checkout process so readers at the front door of the store do not set off an alarm, indicating theft.
1975 marked the beginning of the development, research and experimentation for the next large commercial use of RFID, electronic toll collection. Although outcomes were promising, there was still a lot of testing that needed to be completed. The first highway electronic tolling system finally opened in 1991 (Landt).
The current tolling system that many know as IPASS, E-ZPass or eToll, has significantly reduced the time it takes to collect tolls, decreasing the stop-and-go speeds on busy highways around the world.
Throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, more and more applications found using RFID to be beneficial like animal tracking, factory automation and vehicle access. Due to rising demands, it was no longer just the big names like General Electric and Philips manufacturing RFID tags, but countless others as well.
From the concept of electromagnetic energy, to being able to track object’s information and location, RFID has come a long way. Thanks to advancements in technology, tags can now be the size of a grain of rice, have various application methods, as well as reach up to 100+ feet in read range.
Tracking possibilities with RFID are nearly endless and have proven to be more efficient over previous technologies. With new applications constantly becoming viable, the RFID industry has become well established and continues to grow every day.
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Hameed, S., Saquib, S. M. T., ul Hassan, M., Junejo, F. (2015). Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Based Attendance & Assessment System with Wireless Database Records. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 195, 2889-2895. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.06.414
Landt, J. (2005). The History of RFID. IEEE Potentials, October/November 2015, 8-11.