RFID readers are available in a range of formats and with different capabilities. Readers are almost always dedicated to a particular frequency range so that the choice of tags and readers is tied very much together.
There are two main classes of reader devices. There are dedicated, stand-alone readers that can be used independently of any other devices and there are readers that can be plugged in to some other device such as a point of sale terminal, laptop or desk top computer or to a hand held computer or PDA.
Readers vary in their speed of operation, the distance that they can be from the tag (partly dependent on the technology used) and the speed and reliability of operation.
You can see examples from our current range on our RFID Shop Reader page.
Types of Stand-alone Readers
Some stand-alone readers will be relatively simple, pre-programmed devices only able to carry out the task of collecting the identities of tags that have been read, while others may incorporate a fully functional portable computing capability.
Examples of stand-alone readers include:-
- Pen style, lightweight (50g) devices that can scan and hold data from up to 1000 tags before data is transferred the using a bluetooth link to another computer.
- Ruggedised portable data collection ‘baton’ designed for one button operation in security guard and similar applications.
- Animal tag reader with integral 2×16 character display of data.
Different types of stand-alone readers have different storage capacities and different connection mechanisms for transferring the data collected to another computer system.
Some stand-alone readers will possess an LCD display allowing the operator to immediately see data stored on the tag being read.
Simple, low cost readers may only work well when held close to the tag (1cm to 3cm) whereas more powerful (and usually more expensive) units will be able to read tags from up to 2m away or further depending on the tag technology in use, making them easier to work with for some applications. As a general rule it is a good idea to try the combination of the tag and reader technology in the real world environment where it will be expected to perform since many factors can combine to affect whether or not a systems will perform as desired.
Types of Plug-in Readers
Plug-in readers are designed to connect to a computer or Electronic Point Of Sale (EPOS) device. They are available in a range of formats and with interface connectors that allow them to be connected to most common types of computing devices from Smart Phones up to desktop computers.
These range from the simplest sort of pen-style devices that can plug straight into a USB port, delivering their results via a simple keyboard simulator to more complex devices with a complex set of commands allowing the application to control just how and when the reader should be activated.
- USB or RS232 plug in reader/writer. Typically used in point-of sale or issuing desk applications, these can be connected to EPOS tills as an alternative to or for use alongside bar code laser scanners.
- Compact blue-tooth connected RFID reader/writer for linking to desk top or laptop computers.
- Flat-bed type reader for check-out type application.
- Combined fingerprint / RFID reader for biometric verification applications.
- Special purpose access control reader with numeric and function keypad for additional access control functions.
- Reader / writer and high performance antenna in a wall mounting enclosure for car parking applications.
Some plug-in readers can connect using Bluetooth, like this hand-held “RFID pistol” designed to be used in conjunction with a smartphone.
Readers can also be installed in fixed locations, monitoring the identity of tags passing them. Fixed readers are often used in manufacturing or production line applications, to monitor work in progress or to control which steps or processes an individual item on the production line is to go through. They can also be configured to monitor a door way or passage between two areas in a factory, for example.
These ‘portal’ readers need tuning to the particular requirements of an installation, taking account of the tags and the items that they are attached to. Fixed point readers can be connected to their controlling systems in a number of ways. Some use the popular USB connection standard (useful where the reader is positioned close to a desktop computer or other counter top device). Others can be connected using Ethernet or similar local area networks.
Fixed readers often have separate antennas (sometimes multiple antennas) to allow them to be configured precisely to the requirements of the installation.
For hardware integrators, reader writer component modules and antennae can be built in to other devices. These embedded devices are intended to RFID enable the other piece of equipment. Examples of equipment with embedded RFID readers include drinks vending machines (where RFID is used to check that drink cartridges are valid), platform access gate mechanisms, industrial scales, machinery that needs to identify an authorised operator. These readers will often be quite simple devices, using the power supply of the host equipment and connected using simple data exchange protocols. A number of suppliers offer RFID readers designed to be integrated with other equipment as components in an overall RFID enabled device.
RFID Enabled PDA’s
Reader writers are also available embedded within general purpose portable computing devices such as M3 portable, Nordic Morphic or the PSION Workabout Pro. These handheld devices are usually selected on the basis of the work needed to be carried out by the user or depending on the nature of the environment in which the work is being carried out.
Devices are available with a wide range of protection, making them suitable for use in wet or dusty environments or in applications where they are likely to receive vibration or shocks. The tag reader adds as little as 30g to the weight of the hand-held device, making it easy to use without affecting other tasks.
Hand held devices such as these can also have integrated cameras, GPS and mobile phone functionality, making them powerful data collection devices, especially in safety inspection or maintenance management applications. A number of mobile phones are now becoming available with RFID reader capability. These have mainly been designed to make use of the NFC (near field communications) standard and so can only be used together with NFC compatible (High frequency) tags.