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Security and identification trends: Tags, cards and labels

Read about the most exciting trends in the field of security and identification technology:

Access control

Increasingly, key systems are using RFID technology, with applications now ranging from hotel rooms through domestic applications to maximum security prisons

The user holds the transponder in front of the reader and, using the exchanged data, the reader or a connected computer checks whether the RFID ‘key’ is authorised to open the door. Since RFID technology here only acts as a wireless interface between the key and the door, it is also possible to connect a high-security crypto controller with a very high security level behind the basic NFC system. This means that the security level can be set entirely according to requirements. In a large access control system, access is often controlled individually via a central computer. If an RFID access card is lost, the relevant card can be locked within seconds, thus preventing unauthorised access. Furthermore, it is also possible to log exactly which card (i.e., who) opened which door.

Device calibration

Some devices require individual calibration or adaptation to the consumables used in each case

For example, blood sugar test strips contain chemicals that react with the blood. This reaction is evaluated by the measuring device, which then displays the blood sugar level. The connection of the consumables with an RFID tag that contains the batch-specific production parameters of the test strips enables efficient calibration – a functionality that can also be transferred to other areas. For example, some reagents only have a specific life or a limited use-by date, so RFID tags can ensure proper use. The calibration of test devices, etc. is also possible using this option.


An RFID tag that is inserted in a casino chip performs a dual function

On the one hand, it increases the security of this in-house currency and on the other hand, specially positioned antennae can immediately read the value of an entire stack of chips. This makes it possible to log and monitor the entire game at every stage. Although the basic (relatively cheap) game provides initial on-screen adventures, the game becomes much more fun with the addition of various extras such as a torch, a rope ladder, a boat, bunny hopping boots, a survival manual, a penknife or even friends to join the adventure, such as a small dog, which can crawl through narrow passageways in order to open doors from the other side for everyone to pass through. All of these extras use RFID technology because a corresponding miniature object, miniature figure, etc., is placed on a simple device known as a base or portal that is connected to the console. Inside this base/portal is an RFID reader that is connected to the games console. When a miniature (such as a miniature torch or a boat), which wouldn't be out of place in a display case, is fitted on to the base/portal (with integrated RFID reader), the RFID reader detects the RFID tag incorporated in each miniature, reads it and ensures that these extras (in this case the torch or boat) are also available in the virtual world. When the gamer removes the relevant miniatures from the base/portal (RFID reader), they also disappear from the virtual world. This means that, instead of giving a sterile enable code, grandparents can give a miniature figure with an integrated RFID tag. In addition, several players can join together in an adventure: one bringing a torch, another a boat, a third a survival manual (with integrated RFID tag), etc., in order to play as a team. The level, awards, and game status achieved are stored in the RFID tags of the miniatures, which means for example that a survival expert who has already played in many adventure worlds (games consoles) has a great deal of experience. The extras that can be added are essential for reaching new levels and above all for earning (more) money for the manufacturers – and all thanks to RFID technology. Of course, these gaming ideas apply not only to virtual adventure worlds, but also to virtual racing, virtual space exploration, knights, etc.

Object identification

It is often important that all the elements of a system work together properly

With an integrated RFID tag, it is possible for the individual elements to effectively identify themselves electronically. In this way, manufacturers ensure that only the appropriate accessory, the right probe or the special single-use element is connected to the device. Manufacturers can therefore ensure that only original accessories from their company are used and no imitation products are used that might cause hygiene or liability problems. If the device only operates using original accessories protected by RFID technology, the manufacturer has also taken due care in this logistical aspect. The range of possible applications for object identification via RFID is huge, since RFID can be used to identify blood supplies just as easily as printer cartridges. This means that manufacturers can be sure that only original print cartridges are used, which, for example enable a special high-quality print mode. There are even RFID tags, which work at -150 °C, so that virus samples, cryo samples, etc., can be identified via RFID, whereas labels often fall off at these extreme temperatures. The tag can be integrated in the plastic of a blood bag, for example.


RFID systems are ideal for paying small amounts of money

There are now many different vending machines for chocolate, ice cream, drinks, etc., which support payment via RFID technology. Credit can be loaded onto an NFC-compatible smartphone or an RFID payment card in advance, and the amounts are then deducted when the card is used in a machine. Compared to a cashless payment solution suitable for credit cards, RFID technology is much more economical for machine manufacturers and operators. Since the machine contains little or no cash, attempts to break into machines are no longer (so) lucrative for potential thieves, which also means that the machine usually remains operational for longer. In addition, the time spent on cash management is reduced considerably.

Pre-paid metering

The mobile phone contains a pre-charged balance, which the user transfers to the meter via RFID

In order to ensure that consumers pay their energy or water bills, pre-paid systems will be used increasingly in future. On campsites, in holiday homes and in areas with a poor payment history, the prepaid method is a tried and tested solution. While coin meters have to be adjusted frequently to new tariffs, an RFID-compatible Smartphone offers a better option. The mobile phone contains a pre-charged balance, which the user transfers to the meter via RFID. As long as the meter still has credit, it allows the use of power, water, etc.; once the balance is used it switches off. When a new credit is transferred via RFID, the cycle begins again.


Skiers have been using a typical NFC application for years

From travel cards for public transport – for example in London, Seoul or Taipei – to lift passes for skiers and entry tickets with electronic security features, the applications of RFID systems in ticketing are many and varied. Skiers have been using a typical NFC application for years. Now that lift passes have been fitted with an RFID tag, there is no need to waste time scanning a barcode or showing the ticket as the RFID antenna detects the lift pass in the skier's jacket pocket automatically. Many public transport systems also use RFID technology; the Oyster Card on the London Underground is one of the most well-known applications.