Previous post:

Next post:

RFID, Radio Frequency Identification: It’s here whether you want it or not

January 1, 2005

in All Articles,Wi-Fi

You’re Christmas shopping, months late, squeezing through packed stores full of cash-wielding consumers, slavering to buy, buy and buy some more. Having paid oddly high “sale” prices, you’re walking out of the store when an alarm goes off. A hundred shoppers fall silent and turn Yule-filled gazes your way. A store worker re-scans one of your items. You try to leave again, the alarm stays mute, and the shopping frenzy resumes.

The alarm system is RFID, or “Radio Frequency IDentification”. These are tiny computer chips, powered and programmed to send and receive information from a distance. Your purchased items had RFID chips and were supposed to be “cleared” before you left. The overworked salesperson forgot, resulting in the alarm. Your purchase told the store’s security system, “Help, nobody paid for me!”

RFID is out there. We encounter it often in store inventory security systems. ExxonMobile has the “SpeedPass” system, where we hold up an RFID-enabled chip to immediately pay for gas, instead of having to get out credit cards or cash. Wall-Mart is investing lots of money in RFID, improving everything from warehouse inventory control to customer purchases: Imagine pushing a shopping cart through a doorway, and getting an immediate total of all ninety-three items. We’re not there yet, but close.

Most RFID chips store little data and have short ranges (twenty feet), making them useful for the solutions above, but aren’t meant for moving lots of information. Yet.

At best, RFID is a convenient, time, money and hassle-reducing replacement for barcodes, credit cards and handheld scanners. At worst, it interferes with privacy issues and could change our lives drastically.

RFID tags can be read and programmed by anyone with proper equipment, leading to major quality and safety concerns. This can be alleviated somewhat by having the chips perform electronic hari-kari at the end of a job – they’d never be read or programmed again after performing their intended function.

Because there are no standards, everyone implements RFID differently. It may be possible to order drive-thru, pay for a movie, and get gas all with RFID, but you’d need three different chips.

RFID-enabled merchandise can be physically tracked, showing others your location. But try people-watching next time you’re in the mall. See all those cellphones dangling casually yet stylishly from pants, purse and belt? Cellphone locations can be tracked, even those without fancy tracking software like GPS or e911, but I don’t see anyone complaining.

High-capacity RFID nanobot chips could also be injected in an unknowing human, activated only by certain encrypted codes. The “HART” (Human And RFID Transport) could be the ultimate living information transporter, perfect for ultra-sensitive communications. The person would eventually learn about the HART program, find out the injected information has global consequences, and would need to make an ethical decision about delivering it. There’d have to be a love interest and big explosions, of course, as no tech-action adventure today comes without them. RFID in this example seems pretty cool to me. Mr. Spielberg, can I have a moment of your time?

Previous post:

Next post: