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RFID: The emerging solution for many ills

By Sanjiv Nadkarni*

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) stands for a technique used to identify objects from a distance. The technology pertains to certain electro-magnetic waves suitable for communication. Common example is FM radio that works in frequency band between 88 MHz and 108 MHz.  We are used to bar codes as we see them printed on items we buy from shops. RFID is a code which is embedded in a tag that has an electronic chip. Like bar code reader, there is a scanner known as HHT (Hand Held Terminal) that is used to read the code. At cash counter we see casher taking out each item individually from your shopping basket and scans items one by one for bar code to prepare your bill.

In case of RFID tags all items are read at once while they are still in your basket as no line-of-sight is needed. Its tag has inbuilt micro antenna that emits waves when HHT is in its vicinity. This precisely enables reading several item codes all at once without needing handling of each item. RFID has potential to overtake Bar Code system in some application areas as it increases operational efficiency multi folds.

RFID can be broadly classified as active and passive. Active tags need to be connected to power inlet or they run on battery. They can be read from hundreds of feet. They are used to track expensive assets and often put on sea containers, railway wagons to track their movements. Active tags can carry sensors (temperature, humidity) and can be used to track temperature range in refrigerated trucks transporting frozen foods like fish. They can be fitted with a SIM card that sends temperature data to a portal on continuous basis. Truck that does not maintain prescribed temperature can be highlighted with an SMS to FDA, health authorities etc. This will ensure better check on transportation. With formalin in fish issue being top of mind of Goans, such a system will help monitor critical aspect of interstate fish transportation.

Passive tag does not have its own power. It gets powered on when HHT comes near it and then it transmits information embedded in the tag. They are cheap and can be used with low value items. Their reading range is short; 3 to 10 feet.

Practical applications of RFID technology are many. We often hear about file not found kind of news from government offices. Files can be effectively tracked using inexpensive passive tag system. When a file is created, an RFID label tag encoded with a unique number is stuck to it. Using RFID file management software an EPC (electronic product code) number is associated with information about the file such as name, contents, etc.

When you need to find a specific file just search by name or number using RFID HHT. When a file is located reader will give blips. If a file is fallen behind a table and is out of sight, it can still be located. Antennae can be fitted to main door of an office. This will help computer record which file has been taken out of the office and when. A light flasher can be fitted at the door so that watchman is alerted and he can then act accordingly. This will greatly reduce unauthorized lifting of files. This is similar to identifying at door of malls if an item is being taken out without paying.

When we pay at counter, the RFID tag put on the item is removed by cashier. Otherwise guard at the door gets alerted by system with sound and flashing light.

College libraries have a problem of pilferages. The annual stock verification happens manually and it takes weeks to physically verify thousands of books.  A low cost passive tag can be fitted to each book and HHT can simply be moved across book racks without physically removing books. This way annual stock verification can be done in a few hours. Additionally if antennae are put at main door of library, movement of books IN and OUT of library building can be easily recorded.

Student ID cards can be RFID enabled. Gate will then open only for known cars. A security system can thus be put in place where unauthorized vehicle is barred beyond a certain point at the campus. ID card of student can be used as a payment card. It can be topped up with certain amount at the beginning of the month. Whenever he buys food and drinks at college cafeteria, card is just scanned at card reader and money is deducted. Cafeteria operator does not have to handle cash on daily basis besides improving his cash flow. Such a system is working at GIM at Sankhali.

Recently there was an unfortunate event at a premier hospital in Goa. A body of a young man that was given by his relatives for keeping overnight at its morgue was mistakenly handed over to municipality as abandoned body and was cremated. Such instances can be avoided by using RFID.

Coloured tags can be wrapped around foot of dead body. Example, Green tag means inhouse male body, yellow inhouse female, red male and blue female body brought in by police, pink for child etc . When relatives come to collect a body, HHT will read the tag and flash the name. Besides colour coding will doubly help avoid human errors. Each cabinet can have location code and precise location of body can be found in computer. Door antennae will record movement of body IN and Out of morgue. When a body is shifted between morgues or morgue and hospital, records will be maintained.

When a patient is admitted for treatment, his file can be tagged and it would become much easier to locate his records if he is admitted again even after a few years. It is high time that we use IT smartly to enhance patients’ experience with hospitals. Cost is insignificant.

There was another unfortunate episode at recent IFFI with some delegates expressing displeasure that they were not allowed inside a theatre as seats were full in spite of their advance booking. This happened when as per IFFI procedure, delegates were allowed inside a few minutes before the show. RFID is a good solution to handle entry related situations whether at theatres or sports matches.

Delegate card can be RFID enabled. There is no need of advance booking. A reader kept at theatre door will count delegates going in and a display board will show total, occupied and available seats which can be given on first come first served basis. When someone leaves theatre, available count will be increased as RFID readers will be fitted both inside and outside the main door. This will automatically create record in computer, making it easy to know which delegate attended which movies, which movie had least attendance etc. In addition if readers are put at key venues, even movement of delegates can be recorded.

With judicious use of this technology we can put effective systems in place whether it is missing of files, transportation of fish, milk over long distances, human errors at hospitals, crowd control at events, vehicle movements at colleges etc. As Winston Churchill said, success is ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. When we know what is right, to leave a wrong undone is not done.

*The writer works in areas of IT and renewable energy. He can be reached at sanjivnadkarni@hotmail.com

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