Imagine this: You walk into a grocery store and an automated voice greets you.
It takes your name and asks you to buy milk, as it has been three days since your last purchase.
The machine knows which brand you buy, how often you buy it, the number of members in your family, and so on.
Sounds futuristic? It’s already here.
No more standing in long lines at the checkout counter, even on heavily discounted sale days.
The Radio Frequency Identification smart tags will automatically generate your bill and you can just pay with your credit card and walk out. You do not even have to lift the merchandise in your the cart to the checkout counter.
RFID is the newest technology to reckon with. Kevin Bonsor’s article ‘How Smart Labels Will Work’ at www.howstuffworks.com describes RFID smart tags as consisting of of a small microprocessor chip, a metal coil made up of copper or aluminum wire which acts as the antenna and has an encapsulating material made up of glass or polymer that wraps around the chip and coil.
These tags communicate with a reader by sending a signal at the frequency of radio waves emitted by the antenna.
Data received is a unique identification number similar to the numbers used for bar codes. But this technology enables data to be read without requiring a direct line of sight.
This means that tags inside boxes, suitcases or any obstruction except some fluids and metals can be read easily. It provides real-time parts and other high-value asset tracking of goods.
Shopaholics, are you listening? Many stores are already running a pilot project on this technology!
Why this sudden buzz on RFID? It has been around for quite a few years and has been used for automated toll collection, key-less entry badge readers, smart cards and more.
But starting in January 2005, over 43,000 Department of Defense suppliers will be impacted by the recent mandates for ‘Unique Identification’ and ‘Radio Frequency Identification.’
All suppliers must now attach an RFID tag to the products they supply to the Department of Defense. A number of seminars on Unique Identification/Radio Frequency Identification were held in partnership with the National Defense Industrial Association, Defense Acquisition University and other elements of Department of Defense.
The brochure announcing the conference (which was held Sept. 21 to 23 at the Anaheim Convention Center) states that leveraging this technology will improve the Department of Defense’s ability to get the warfighter the right material, at the right time, and in the right condition.
Parking problems? Yes, that’s right, they can also be addressed by this technology, and it’s happening right here at UCI.
A specific project dealing with RFID technology was designed for the class ICS 280: Ubiquitous Computing, taught by Professor Cristina Lopes. According to this design, a Parking Discovery and Monitoring System can be implemented with the help of RFID.
It will help guide drivers to an open parking spot without the use of additional manpower. It will exactly locate the floor and space, and determine whether it is for a disabled person.
And lastly, it will address the needs of enforcers and administrators by automatically detecting whether the car that is parked in the spot has the proper permit to be able to park there. This means no more going around in circles to find that lone parking spot.
Lopes commented that there are still many unknowns with this technology, including sources of funding, potential advantages and disadvantages.
There exists a dark line between theory and practical use. But implementaion of this technology is possible and only a matter of time.
Along with this technology comes the issue of possible violations of privacy. One can track a person attached with RFID with the help of a reader.
The fact that it is so small means that the person being tracked may never know it. Also, people may gain unauthorized access to data transmitted from an RFID tag.
Zebra Technologies, a leading global provider of the thermal bar code label and receipt printer, RFID smart label printers and encoders, and label design and integration software has posted the following on their Web site to alleviate people’s fears:
‘The privacy issues under so much discussion really have less to do with RFID than with basic trust … The question associated with RFID is more related to an ‘unauthorized’ use of data that has been transmitted from an RFID tag.’
Soon, checkout counter jobs may become nonexistent, meaning a lot of students might need to find somewhere else to work. This new technology, while adding convenience to the lives of consumers, will initially take away from jobs normally reserved for young people. On the bright side, managing inventory will become child’s play. Parking will no longer be a nightmare.
Where will tomorrow take us? Will RFID really solve problem or create new ones? Lopes summed it up beautifully by saying, ‘Technology is not worth anything by itself. It depends on what you can do with it. Technology can always be used for good and bad things, [and] so is the case with RFID.’