Deploying RFID Technology at Mayo Clinic

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Deploying RFID tehcnology at Mayo Clinic Hospital

“Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) had its origins during World War II. RFID was developed on the back of the pioneering work of the British scientist Watson-Watt who invented radar. Radar could identify the presence of e.g. an airplane and indeed its size but not whether it was “Friend or Foe.” He therefore developed a remarkable system in which a transponder on an aircraft, which had a unique identity code, could be read by a defence ground station. Although the technology used today is much more advanced, the same basic principles apply.
RFID was next developed to produce passive electronic surveillance tags for protect shop goods; the tags activate store sensor alarms if a customer attempts to leave without paying. The next phase in RFID history was the creation of active tags in 1970s that were used to track the movements of vehicles carrying radioactive materials and even cows! Subsequently, RFID systems were introduced with increased data rates and longer ranges after a higher radio frequency was adopted. It is fair to say that RFID technology is now widely used in industry, medicine and society at large.

How an RFID system works

Each component of a RFID system has a specific task to perform. At the heart of the system is the scanning antenna, which emits radio-frequency (RF) signals over a relatively short range. The RF radiation has two functions. First, it provides the mechanism of communication between the transponder (the RFID tag) and base. Second, in the case of passive tags, it supplies provides the necessary power for them to respond to interrogation requests. This is a fundamental component of RFID technology because passive tags do not need to contain a power source, and have a virtually unlimited life span. This also means that passive tags can be fabricated with a much smaller footprint and more cheaply. Other types of tag utilize a local power source and emit electromagnetic radiation at radio frequencies. One great advantage of active versus passive tags is that a scanner can detect the information transmitted at far greater distances.

An RFID system is constructed from three components, namely a:

  • scanning antenna
  • transceiver with a built in decoder to interpret raw data
  • transponder – the RFID tag – programmed with a unique identification code.

In essence an RFID system uses radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data from a tag attached to, for example, a medical specimen, to enable automatic identification and tracking of its whereabouts in a large hospital such as the Mayo Clinic. The great practical benefits of the RFID system is that it is wireless and therefore does not require physical contact between the tracking tag and the transponder. The functions of each part of the RFID system will now be considered and in particular what each component does, and how they fit together to produce the working system…”

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