June 19, 2007

How to: Wire Your House with RFID

Despite criticism concerning security   and personal privacy   issues that surround RFID, the technology has become popular and commonplace   in the retail environment. But there's no reason why these new technologies   should be confined to stores and inventory   systems; they can be useful at home as well. RFID can be hooked up to almost   anything electronic around the house, especially devices that usually require   users to carry around keys or use access codes. RFID chips and cards can replace   these conventional items and give your home a more futuristic and unarguably   cooler feel.

So whether you're an RFID   tagged geek or just a tech enthusiast looking for new gadgets, wiring your   home with RFID can be an exciting and beneficial project. Here are a few ways   where RFID can be integrated into your home to make your life easier and more   convenient:

Door Locks: For those sick of carrying around multiple keys   or who frequently leave the keys in the door, an RFID door lock could be a good   option. There are a couple of different ways to set up an RFID door lock, but   the simplest method is to buy a pre-packaged system like the My   Key 2300. This lock comes with 8 RFID keys, auto and manual lock modes,   and a burglar alarm. It can't be picked since there's nothing to pick, and it   comes with an external forced lock feature that keeps it from being opened through   a mail slot or window. The system isn't free from drawbacks, however. It comes   with a hefty price tag ($300) and it isn't recommended that it be exposed to   rain or snow (which might be a difficult objective to achieve for an outside   door).

If you're looking for a cheaper DIY way of hooking up your door with RFID it'll   take some elbow grease and a few small components. There are numerous   ways of going about this chore, depending on your budget and whether or not   you want the system hooked directly to your computer. You'll need a few basic   electronic components like circuit boards, relays, and a project box as well   as an electronic door strike (the same kind that are used to "buzz"   people in). And, if you'd like, an electronic keypad deadbolt can be added as   well. Amal   Graafstra provides detailed instructions for this project in his book, RFID   Toys. I would reproduce the project here, but it's detailed and encompasses   several pages.

Keep in mind that you'll also need a few tools for the job and some delicate   tinkering. The system itself is relatively simple, however, and will allow you   access to your door with the use of a RFID tag or chip and can also be made   fancier since it's hooked up to your PC. You can use the system to set up email   alerts when people come or go, or set up timers to only allow certain doors   to be accessed at pre-scheduled times.

Pet Doors: Pet   doors can be a great way to let dogs and cats in and out without actually   having to open the door for them each time. Yet, these doors aren't without   their drawbacks. If you have a large dog the door can be wide enough for a squirrelly   burglar or other unwanted animals. One way to keep out unwanted visitors is   to put in an RFID access device on your door. There are a couple of ways to   accomplish this. First, you need to consider whether you would like your animal   to have an embedded   chip, like those used to ID lost animals at almost all animals shelters,   or if you'd like to simply have your pet wear a   collar with the RFID device attached. Both have their benefits and drawbacks,   so it's really up to you. After you've considered what your pet will wear, you   also need to consider what kind of door you want to use. There are RFID systems   available that are pre-wired and set up that allow you to simply install the   pet door, no electronics knowledge required.

If you're really into doing it all on your own, you can install an RFID reader   to just about any pet door that has a locking mechanism. However, since the   reader system would have to sit outside the pet door itself, it might not be   the most attractive option if you're worried about aesthetics. You'll also want   to consider the relative range of the RFID system that you're installing, since   some can only have a range of up to 4   inches. The principal for setting up the pet door lock is the same as that   for a larger door lock, except that you'll need to allow the reader, and the   chip for that matter, to be in a place where your pet will be able to access   it easily and not get left out in the cold.

Computer Logon: With security being a big issue these days,   new and innovative ways to secure your data and workstation are always a welcome   addition to your tech repertoire. RFID can actually be a quick and easy way   to lock down your data when you're away from your desk. One of the simplest   ways to implement RFID to your computer is to use a simple USB system like PCProx.   PCProx uses RFID to block access to your computer when you leave the immediate   vicinity. When you return, you simply wave an RFID card over the reader and   you are immediately signed back into your system. To make it more secure, as   cards can and do get lost, users can add a special PIN.

If you want to be a little sneakier about your RFID logon capabilities, you   can fix up a regular keyboard so that an RFID reader is hidden inside. As you   can read here,   you'll need to be a little electronically savvy and also have a steady hand.   All you'll need is the RFID reader and compatible tag, a working keyboard, some   open source software, and you're ready to go. Why would you want your RFID access   to be secret? While the chances are slim, it is possible that someone could   find out your tag ID and duplicate it, gaining access to your computer. If no   one knows you have RFID access installed in the first place they can't take   advantage of your privacy.

Garage Door Opener: With the morning scramble out the door,   it's easy to forget to shut to garage door amidst the chaos. With an RFID system   it's possible for that problem to be a thing of the past, and also to make your   garage more secure by making sure it opens only for you and only you. There   are, of course, places that would be more than happy to install such a   system for you. These, however, can be extremely expensive, especially if   you get all the extra features (many offer services that turn lights, music   and other household things on when you arrive home).

If you can't pay for the convenience of a full installation, you can install   a simpler system on your own. You'll need an RFID reader and tag, a transmitter   and a receiver, and this simple   design for an RFID garage door opener. The system will cause the garage   door to open automatically when your car, which contains the RFID tag, approaches.   The tag isn't embedded in this design, which allows you to move that tag from   car to car if necessary. It can also be modified to automatically shut the door   after a certain period of time or when the car reaches a certain distance from   the house.

Electronic Safe: Some people simply can't remember numbers,   and combinations can be a real challenge. If you're one of these people, or   if you want to add a different element to your safe system, you can modify your   electronic safe so that it opens with both an RFID card or tag and the electronic   keypad that it came with. For those safes with RFID chips embedded, this can   be an additional means to secure the contents in that safe.

The RFID safe is assembled in a similar way to the other RFID locking systems.   An RFID reader is embedded into your safe and installation will vary slightly   depending on the model. You'll also need a USB programmable board. The software   to program it is open source and programming details   can be found on that site. You can also hook up the reader to a small LCD light   to let you know if your tag is being read and that the reader is appropriately   powered.

These are just a few ways that RFID can be used around the house; if you're   creative you can figure out how to hook up many other household items to your   RFID system as well. Be advised that many of these projects do require a certain   degree of skill or knowledge about electronics and circuitry, or at least the   ability to follow directions very carefully. Still, if you have the patience   and the skill you can use these ideas to up your technology coolness factor   significantly by installing some RFID devices around your house.

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