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Emerging Trends in RFID

  • April 8, 2005
  • By Manish Bhuptani and Shahram Moradpour
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Evolving Standards and Legislation

Standards and legislation will play a key role in shaping the future of RFID and its applications. In this section, we discuss the key trends related to them.

Industry Standards

As we discussed in Chapter 4, "Standards Related to RFID," EPCglobal established and supports the Electronic Product Code (EPC) Network as the worldwide RFID standard for immediate, automatic, and accurate identification of any item in a sup-ply chain. Similarly, ISO has been developing RFID standards in several industries for two decades. Other local standards bodies and standardization initiatives are developing RFID-related standards in specific industries (for example, livestock), around certain technologies (for example, Smart Active Labels), and even relevant only to certain countries (for example, China). Although the moves toward RFID standards definitely constitute a trend, its evolution is far from complete. The process of developing standards is slow and includes review of opinions from industry participants. Vigorous and sometimes contentious debate and even opposing standards initiatives are often part of the process.

Government Regulations and Mandates

Government regulations regarding what items to monitor and report upon will serve as protections for entire industries or large populations. For example, tracking and reporting data about cattle might help to identify an outbreak of Mad Cow disease, potentially saving the livestock industry of an entire country. Similarly, tracking the pedigree of dangerous medication can prevent fraud and counterfeiting, potentially saving the lives of numerous patients. Because society as a whole is the beneficiary of these types of applications, expect government agencies to provide subsidies that will offset the costs individual businesses might incur. Although business will indeed benefit from these applications, such benefits are often not always immediate enough to warrant voluntary investment by businesses.

Privacy Related Legislation

RFID's weakest link (from a supply chain perspective) exists between the wholesaler/ retailer and the consumer. There are two reasons for this. First, a consumer does not necessarily have, or may not know of, a compelling reason to link one's identity and purchases to the rest of the supply chain. Secondly, consumers may have compelling reasons not to share this information. There are a number of ways that enterprises can foster trust and ways that consumers can benefit from connecting to the supply chain, as discussed in Chapter 10, "Security and Privacy." We can expect continued discussion and debate around RFID privacy from consumer advocacy groups, vendors, and lobbyists. Governments will be pressed to impose new privacy legislation to calm consumer concerns. Their challenge will be to balance the public and business interests.

Consumer Application Innovations

Consumer enthusiasm is a critical factor for the ultimate ubiquity of many technologies. The driving force behind creating such enthusiasm is application innovation that captures the consumer's interest and imagination.

In Chapter 1, "A Better Way of Doing Things," we described a number of RFID-enabled applications that directly benefit consumers. They include: access control, people monitoring, electronic toll collection, payment and loyalty, patient care, sports timing, and many others. RFID and its applications are all around us, and innovations frequently occur. In April of 2004, VIP patrons of the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona, Spain, received's syringe-injected RFID tag implants. This enabled them to pay for their drinks automatically, without reaching for their wallets-and they also enjoyed free access to the VIP area making them permanently "cool."

Elsewhere, a company called has introduced tagged golf balls that can be easily located using a lightweight handheld RFID reader around the golf course.

Expect vendors to continue to capture our imagination and get us hooked on RFID by introducing interesting, creative, and original applications.

Q: Why subcutaneous tagging?
A: Subcutaneous tagging, which involves injecting an RFID tag under the skin for identification and/or tracking purposes, is not a new concept. It has been used for identification of fish and domestic animals for more than a decade. However, innovative applications such as tagging club goers, and even tagging personnel to control access to sensitive offices or documents, leads to more consumer interest and enthusiasm, which in and itself will lead to a more receptive consumer psychology. You can only wonder how quickly subcutaneous tagging would take off if Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake decided to use it at their concerts as a means for purchasing memorabilia at a discount or for gaining backstage admission.

Summary

Thirty years ago, it was hard to imagine that anyone could do their Christmas shopping with a few clicks on a computer keyboard. Today, millions of people Christmas shop from the comfort of their personal computers at home. We now take for granted new conveniences of the Internet; using our computers to communicate with our peers half way across the globe or instantly selling shares of an underperforming stock we just read about moments before. However, back in the 1960s and 1970s, computers were only used by corporate giants or governments to perform complex mathematical tasks. The concept of networks and the possibility of connecting computers together to help make everyday life more convenient was only a vision of a few elite computer scientists. They recognized the inevitable as a function of economic feasibility.

Now in a rapid growth phase, RFID technology holds similar promise and will become as ubiquitous in our everyday lives as the automobile or the wheels that move it. This will happen as RFID technology continues to provide an undeniable value proposition and help reduce cost and increase revenues for businesses using the technology. Thus, the question of mass adoption of RFID becomes a matter of answering the following questions:

  • Can RFID enable new profitable products and services?
  • Can RFID help improve existing business functions and operations?
  • Can RFID help increase competitive advantage?
  • Can RFID provide more value-added services and products to the consumer?

The answer to all these questions is, of course, yes. Today, we are well underway toward the ubiquitous adoption of RFID technology. There are already hundreds of millions of tags used in our everyday life-from tags in our car keys to tags around our luggage handles. We use RFID technology when we enter our office buildings or when we pump gas. We use RFID in our hospitals and in marathon races. The next phase for RFID is adoption within the supply chain, the supply chain of anything that ends up in a retail store-bottles of cough syrup, boxes of cereal , children's toys, office equipment, furniture, and so on. The retail store is the last stop for true mass adoption of RFID technology. The journey there requires many steps and will take some time as the economics continue to become more favorable.

Ultimately, RFID will achieve its full potential, as have other great technologies. It will usher in a new economic, business, and consumer revolution much like the automobile did when in 1914, Henry Ford opened the world's first automobile assembly line and revolutionized the face of transportation as we knew it.

Resources

(1) Source: University of California, Berkeley: How Much Information 2003? http://www.sims.berkeley.edu/research/projects/how-much-info-2003/
(2) Source: Venture Development Corporation. Used by permission.

About the Authors

Manish Bhuptani is President and co-founder of Cleritec Systems. Prior to Cleritec he was Director of Market Development at Sun Microsystems where he grew Sun's market presence in emerging and established markets. He has also worked as a management consultant at A.T. Kearney where he advised Fortune 500 companies on business strategy, and as a software engineer at IBM. He holds an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, an MS in Computer Engineering from Purdue University, and a BE in Electrical Engineering from The Cooper Union.

Shahram Moradpouris CEO and co-founder of Cleritec Systems based in Silicon Valley. Cleritec provides RFID solutions for manufacturing, retail, and healthcare companies. Prior to Cleritec, Shahram was Senior Director of Market Development at Sun Microsystems where he oversaw Sun's alliances with more than 450 partners. He also sponsored and directed numerous emerging technology projects with Fortune 500 companies. He holds Master and Bachelor of Science degrees in Computer Science from UCLA.

About the Book

RFID Field Guide: Deploying Radio Frequency Identification Systems
By Manish Bhuptani and Shahram Moradpour



Published by Prentice Hall Professional Technical Reference
February 2005, Softbound, 288 pages, Retail price: $39.99
ISBN: 0131853554
This material is from Chapter 1 of the book.



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