Technology Guide: RFID Chips

You might not be fully aware of it yet, but Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) has already started to revolutionize the world we live in. And at the tiny heart of this new technology are RFID chips – miniature computers that provide the logic and memory within RFID tags.

In case you’re not familiar with all this (and haven’t yet read our guides to RFID and RFID tags), let’s take a step back for a moment. RFID is a type of remote identification system that’s a lot like a barcode – except that every item tracked has a totally unique ID, and RFID-tracked objects don’t have to be in plain sight to be scanned. That allows RFID chips to be embedded in your credit card, your pets, and even in people.

RFID systems have two main parts: tags that are embedded in the tracked objects, and RFID readers that scan the tags. Inside each tag is an RFID chip – and they’re getting smaller and more advanced by the month.

What do RFID chips do?

The integrated circuit (chip) inside every RFID tag provides its logic and memory functions. The other main component of an RFID tag, the antenna, either receives or transmits data to RFID readers.

So it’s the RFID chip that enables tags to provide useful information – such as the location of a hospital doctor, emergency health information for patients, or your authorization when making a contactless payment.

These privacy concerns scary enough for you yet? 

The world’s smallest RFID chips

The tiny size of RFID chips is one of their most important features. Being small is what enables them to work without a battery, and to be embedded inside other small objects – like ID cards, or even under the skin of animals at a wildlife reserve.

And like any technology, RFID chips are getting smaller all the time. The world’s tiniest was developed by Hitachi, and measures only 0.15 x 0.15 millimeters. It’s also incredibly thin – at only 7.5 micrometers.

They’re so small, they’ve been nicknamed “Powder” or “Dust.” That makes them small enough to be incorporated in paper, such as banknotes. This means that the RFID chips in your bank cards could be potentially stolen by anyone at anytime, without you even noticing. 

Myths about RFID chips

RFID is a powerful new technology that’s small enough to go unseen. So it’s only natural that a number of conspiracy myths about RFID chips have sprung up.

The future of RFID chips

The truth about RFID chips is that most are passive, unpowered and carry a relatively small amount of data. Which means they can only work at short range, to share small bits of data. Hitachi “Powder” chips, for example, can only store one 38-digit number.

However, RFID chips are getting cheaper and more useful all the time and with the world on constant alert from Governments about mass surveillance, there is a huge risk that they could be used for this as well. Whatever happens, all we know is that we will be seeing them in lots more applications in future.

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