The 'rub'
Want to detect the presence of RFID readers? Want to control when a RFID tag is active or readable? We describe how to do both using bits of copper and card, and some readily available electronics hardware.

Longer preamble
Radio frequency identification ( RFID) is rapidly growing in popularity. RFID tags are found everywhere. They're attached to container freight, in those funny-looking white labels you find in newly purchased books, embedded in many corporate ID cards and passports, etc. The tags have a few common properties: they transmit a unique ID number, are optimized to be 'read' from predefined distances, and are usually small so they can remain unobtrusive or hidden.

RFID readers are used to track nearby tags by wirelessly reading a tag's unique ID (see Figure 4); a tag simply has to be brought into physical proximity with a reader to be read. Readers are mostly used for industrial or commercial purposes, e.g. asset tracking or electronic payment. Wal-mart use RFID tags and readers in their supply chain. The technology is also used in mass transit systems in cities like London and Hong Kong. In Japan, many mobile phones incorporate readers to enable e-money payments in shops and vending machines.

For those of us who want to experiment with RFID, the problem is that the technology is almost always black boxed. That is, the inner workings of a tag and its interaction with a reader is hidden from view, and thus difficult to have much control over.

In the two exercises that follow (building a RFID reader detector and a tilt-sensitive RFID tag), we offer an example of how you can start revealing some of the workings of RFID and thus gain some control over the technology. The two exercises also hopefully show that the technology is relatively simple and how it can be extended to support some interesting interactions. We offer some other possibilities that build on our examples at the end.

Step 1: Material and Tools

This section provides an overview of the necessary materials and tools.

Materials (see Figure 1):
We need the following material to built the basic RFID reader detector.
- Cardboard (around 100x70 mm)
- Conductive copper tape (e.g., order number 1218478 at www.farnell.com)
- Capacitor 82 pF (picofarad) (e.g., order number 1138852 at www.farnell.com)
- Low current LED (light-emitting diode) (e.g., order number 1003207at www.farnell.com)

Tools (see Figure 2 and 3):
- Craft knife and scissors
- Insulating tape (e.g., order number 1373979 at www.farnell.com)
- Soldering iron and solder

RFID reader for testing (see Figure 4):
To test our RFID tags we need an RFID reader that can operate at a frequency of 13.56 MHz.
There many readers for this widely used RFID standard, for instance the Sonmicro MIFARE USB reader (http://www.sonmicro.com/).
Note: The Phidget RFID reader does not work with the tags created in this project, as it uses a different frequency for communication with the tags (125 kHz).

Advanced material (see Figure 5):
The following material is necessary to build the second part of the project: the tilt-sensitive RFID tag.
- Micro tilt switches (e.g., www.digikey.com)
- RFID ICs (e.g., MIFARE Standard 1k, part no. 568-2219-1-ND at www.digikey.com)

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