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A VC Opinion: One of the Best New RFID Products
Radar Tag Sensors to Eliminate Friendly Fire
Goodyear Working on Two RFID Projects
RFID, Ubiquitous Computing and Smart Shopping
RFID's Three Hurdles
RFID Versus Bar Codes
RFID and the Hype Cycle
Speck-Sized RFID Chips
RFID in Vietnam
World's First Multiband RFID Chip
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March 17, 2004

A VC Opinion: One of the Best New RFID Products

Steve Hall over at Northwest VC says that one of the best new products shown at the recent DEMO 2004 show is an RFID product:

    "Blue Vector Systems. Infrastructure solutions for large-scale RFID deployment for supply chain management. Hardware solutions essentially create RFID subnets and routing for more efficient system management and data aggregation."

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. This image from the Blue Vector Systems website does a succinct job describing the product:

Blue Vector.bmp

Source: Blue Vector Systems

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March 16, 2004

Radar Tag Sensors to Eliminate Friendly Fire

Via Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends weblog comes word of a radar tag sensor to eliminate friendly fire during combat.

Sandia National Laboratories, near the beautiful Sandia Mountains in New Mexico, USA, has announced development of a radar tag sensor that is mounted on military equipment. The sensor is used to track military vehicles and prevent fratricide through "friendly fire."

This new technology is what I would loosely call a "second cousin" to RFID -- in other words, distantly related. According to Sandia National Laboratories:

    "The sensor, dubbed by the Army as 'Athena' — protector of the troops — is not a radio transmitter that broadcasts a signal for the aircraft to receive. Instead, the sensor creates synthetic radar echoes, so that the radar picks up the sensor signal in the same way it picks up radar echoes from tanks, trucks, or other objects.

    In general, the radar transmits a pulse of energy then looks for the reflections of that energy from objects on the ground. The tag sees the radar’s transmitted pulse and sends it back to the radar, except it adds a little bit of data to the reflection (or echo).

    As the radar picks up (or receives) reflections from the ground, it recognizes the tag’s unique data signal and places an icon on the pilot’s screen to alert him."

As some of the comments on Roland's weblog indicate, a key issue seems to be how to prevent the bad guys from reading the radar sensors, too. Otherwise, the whole purpose of the system would be foiled.

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Goodyear Working on Two RFID Projects

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. will be placing RFID tags on all tires shipped to Wal-Mart. Goodyear will be complying with the previously-announced Wal-Mart mandate requiring RFID for its top 100 suppliers by 2005.

Interestingly, Goodyear will be placing RFID tags on each tire, instead of on pallets and cases as Wal-Mart had requested. There is a simple reason for that: tires are not shipped in containers.

However, placing RFID tags on the tires themselves is not an easy task, either. According to a Goodyear spokesperson:

    "This is complex because tires are flexible, the material properties can interrupt or distort the radio signal, they are shipped individually and they are stored in arbitrary positions."

In addition to the Wal-Mart initiative, Goodyear is also working on a separate "smart tire" project. That project would involve sensors that tell drivers that tires are low on air, and may appear on cars as early as the 2007 model year.

Read more in the Craintech article here.

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March 15, 2004

RFID, Ubiquitous Computing and Smart Shopping

It all started with a link someone sent me to the Ubicomp and Shopping weblog, which is in Japanese. Even though I cannot read Japanese, the weblog has some great links (in English) to RFID articles.

From there I just had to find out what the "ubicomp" in the weblog's title meant.

It turns out that "ubicomp" is short for "ubiquitous computing." Ubiquitous computing is an entire body of thought for a futuristic view of how the world interacts with computers.

In ubiquitous computing, computers fade into the background of our lives. Not because computers are no longer around, but because they are everywhere, and so tiny and so integrated into our surroundings that we don't see them. We come to rely on them for everything. According to the founder of ubiquitous computing, Mark Weiser, of the Palo Alto Research Center:

    "It is invisible, everywhere computing that does not live on a personal device of any sort, but is in the woodwork everywhere."

RFID plays a key role in ubiquitous computing. With speck-sized RFID chips embedded on items around us, transmitting data to RFID readers, where the data then ends up in a computer and can then be used for some purpose, we are on our way toward a state of ubiquitous computing. Depending on your point of view, that's either very good or very bad.

Now, back to the weblog that started me on my discovery of ubiquitous computing. The Japanese weblog is associated with a website, www.ubiks.net, which is written in English. Although ubiquitous computing may be a future thing, the website is all about how even today we can use computers and wireless technologies such as RFID to enhance the shopping experience -- "smart shopping." There is a neat English-language Flash slideshow demonstrating how some of these technologies will be used to make shopping more fun and information-enriched.

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March 12, 2004

RFID's Three Hurdles

Via Atmaspheric Endeavors comes a report on CNet suggesting that retailers' RFID mandates will be successful only if RFID vendors overcome 3 issues:

  • Define rules for where on a case to place RFID tags (such as the upper right corner when the case is filled with bottles of liquid). Right now suppliers are spending time and money figuring this out on a case by case basis. Industry standardization will cut testing time and costs.
  • Deliver source-tagging infrastructure. That way suppliers can incorporate RFID into their production environments and gain sufficient value from it, rather than investing in RFID simply to comply with retailer mandates.
  • Provide better interfaces between RFID readers and applications. Today suppliers need an additional layer of middleware in order to get the right data from readers and into applications like warehouse management. First, middleware vendors must provide simple interfaces. The second step is for middleware providers to bundle their software with back-end applications.

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March 11, 2004

RFID Versus Bar Codes

Georgetown University Hospital is conducting a study with 100 blood transfusion patients, comparing bar-code technology with RFID technology to track transfusions from donor to patient.

The project will use Precision Dynamics Corp.'s Smart Band RFID Wristband System and tags from Texas Instruments.

One advantage with RFID is that its signal goes through human bodies, clothing, and nonmetallic materials, whereas the bar code has to be in direct light of sight with the reader/scanner.

Precision's Smart Bands are an interesting RFID application. They can be used to track visitors to amusement parks and sports events and inmates in correctional institutions.

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March 09, 2004

RFID and the Hype Cycle

Via an article in Line 56 comes word of a new report from consultancy A. T. Kearney, urging firms to focus on the benefits to be derived from RFID. For instance, companies should concentrate on building the information systems that will do something with the data collected by using RFID.

The A.T. Kearney report points out that RFID will likely go through a "hype cycle" until companies come to understand and leverage the benefits of it. "Hype cycle" is a term coined by Gartner to describe the boom, bust and subsequent stabilization phases that new technologies go through:

    "They first climb a steep "hype" curve, as pundits describe the benefits and paradigm-shifting characteristics of the technology. Next, they plummet into a "trough of disillusionment" as inflated expectations get pushed aside by the reality of performance. Finally, as the benefits are better understood and realized, mature and stable offerings emerge. *** The best example is the boom and bust of the e-commerce revolution and the subsequent stabilization of industry players such as Amazon and eBay."

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March 06, 2004

Speck-Sized RFID Chips

Joi Ito's Moblog has a great photograph of dust speck sized RFID chips. You don't realize how small they are until you actually see them.

I don't know if these are part of the Malaysia Microchip project that I referred to in my March 3rd post. Joi Ito refers to them as "0.2mm 128K RFID chips." Whatever, they are tiny!

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March 05, 2004

RFID in Vietnam

X-Change Corporation and its subsidiary Airgate Technologies, announces that it has signed an agreement with Tranguyen Corporation, of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

The agreement means that Tranguyen will have the exclusive right in Vietnam to market Airgate's RFID hardware, software, accessories, professional services and maintenance contracts.

Says Michael Sheriff, CEO of X-Change Corp.: "We are very pleased that Tranguyen will bring our RFID technology solutions to the manufacturers in Vietnam, which is rapidly becoming one of the world's key manufacturing centers."

We wonder how many other RFID hardware and software vendors are taking this approach of signing distributors in the countries (especially in Asia) where manufacturing facilities reside.

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March 03, 2004

World's First Multiband RFID Chip

FEC Inc., a Japanese company, has developed the world's first multiband RFID chip. It has the capacity to operate at different frequencies which means it can be used in Europe, the United States and Japan, each of which has different RFID standards.

Dubbed the Malaysia Microchip project, the Malaysian government backed the project and owns the intellectual property of the chip.

Not much bigger than a speck of dust at 0.25sq mm, the chip is also the world's smallest chip with a built-in antenna and read/write capabilities.

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March 02, 2004

Radio Frequency Chips to Track Cats

cat in flowers.jpg

Cat Hiding from Authorities

From Akron, Ohio in the United States, comes this story making the headlines.

The local animal shelter plans to offer a tracking system to reunite loose or roaming cats with their owners.

Tiny microchips will be embedded under cats' coats. The animal shelter will be equipped with handheld readers which then will be used to scan cats picked up on the streets and brought to the shelter, in an effort to find their owners.

To understand why this has made such news, you have to consider the entire story. It starts in 2002, when the local city council passed an ordinance allowing for the rounding up and destruction of stray cats if not immediately claimed by their owners.

That move caused a huge outcry. The City of Akron was attacked for being "cruel and inhuman." Groups banded together to support the cats. Websites such as SaveOurCats.org were set up to mobilize the opposition to the new ordinance. A lawsuit was even filed on behalf of Akron cats.

The microchip plan is an effort to address the stray cat problem in a more proactive way, by trying to reunite missing cats with their owners. Before it is too late.

In case you want to track your pet with a radio frequency chip, Yahoo has a directory of pet microchip providers.

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Metro Backs Down on RFID, But Privacy Groups Not Satisfied

Responding to pressure from consumer privacy advocates, Metro Group has decided to drop the use of RFID tags in loyalty cards at its showcase Extra Future Store in Rheinberg, Germany.

Metro is the fifth largest retailer in the world. It joins Benetton and Wal-Mart in scrapping or changing retail aspects of RFID strategies due to consumer backlash on privacy grounds.

At the Rheinberg store, Metro had embedded RFID chips in loyalty cards. the purpose was to comply with German law and prevent anyone under age 16 from viewing certain movies through a viewing service provided in the store.

However, consumer privacy advocates threatened to demonstrate outside the store on Saturday.

Key factors that seemed to get Metro in trouble were (1) its failure to notify consumers in advance about the RFID chips, and (2) its failure to take adequate measures to prevent the chips from being misused. According to this report from Wired.com:

    "Activists recently discovered RFID chips embedded in the store's customer loyalty cards. They also found them in products for sale there, including goods from IBM, Gillette and Procter & Gamble. Metro failed to notify customers that they were being tracked. Although Metro told activists the chips worked only while customers were inside the store, activists discovered that a kiosk used to deactivate the chips didn't completely disable the tags."

Activists were not satisfied with the company's announcement dropping the tags. Privacy groups such as FoeBud want a moratorium on item-level product tagging.

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RFID and Sports Ticketing

So-called smart tickets, containing RFID tags, are increasingly being used in sporting events. According to an article in Vnunet.com, the German 2006 Fifa World Cup and the Chinese 2008 Olympics are planning to introduce radio frequency identification (RFID) tagged tickets:

    "German World Cup 2006 officials said that they would be using RFID tagging on tickets to speed entry to games and cut down on counterfeiting.

    The tickets will include match and seating data, but officials would not say whether they intend to record personal information on the ticket owners.

    Philips is currently piloting the scheme, but Fifa 2006 explained that the full implementation would need to be put out to competitive tender.

    "Trials have shown that, after a little bit of initial confusion, fans are finding it very easy to use," said Mario Rivas, executive vice president at Philips Semiconductors.

    Organisers of the Olympics are piloting Philips smart tickets to combine entry to the games along with the ability to pay for public transport, parking, merchandising and food."

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RFID Implementation in Australia

The Australian IT News reports that in most uses of RFID right now in Australia are in manufacturing and agriculture. Unlike other parts of the world, retailing is not the overriding leader there.

Estimates range from 50 to 100 RFID projects underway in Australia.

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February 26, 2004

RFID Tags Keep Buses on Time

Residents of Bogota, Colombia now get home from work to their families 75% faster -- all because the buses use RFID tags.

Bogota had a big traffic problem. Its 23,000 private transit buses frequently left the less populated streets and all converged on major thoroughfares to compete for the bulk of riders. The average daily commute time used to be an incredible four hours.

Then Bogota passed a law requiring buses to stick with assigned routes, which are monitored by RFID tags provided by Identec Solutions, a Canadian company. WM Wireless & Mobile, a Colombian company, provided the systems integration work.

The daily commute has now dropped to one hour.

Transit police use PDAs equipped with RFID readers. The bus need only pass within 10 feet (3 meters) of the officer, who can verify the bus is on its assigned route. If it is not, the officer issues a citation.

Four hour commute? Whew!

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RFID Integration Services Market to Surpass Hardware

By 2007 the market for RFID integration and consulting services will surpass the market for RFID hardware. That's according to a report by ABI, a research firm.

ABI forecasts an integration services market of over $1 Billion (USD) by 2006.

So far integration services have taken a back seat in RFID planning. Most of the emphasis has been on compliance-level solutions to meet short-term RFID mandates by companies such as Walmart and Tesco.

But that will all change. As companies discover the benefits of RFID throughout their enterprises, demand will rapidly grow for full-scale RFID implementations. RFID solutions will need to adapt to and interoperate with legacy IT and logistics applications. To do that, integration consulting services are a must:

    "Any changes to existing enterprise systems require architectural mapping, systems programming and testing, and company-wide change management implementations. Companies with deep experience in this space, including Accenture, BearingPoint, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, IBM, and Unisys, are increasing their focus on RFID, but have a long way to go to meet staffing needs...."

Sounds like a promising business opportunity for some of the large integration consulting firms -- and a promising employment opportunity for qualified individuals.

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Retailer Target Mandates RFID

Target, the fourth largest U.S. retailer, joins the growing list of companies mandating that their suppliers use RFID.

Target's top suppliers will have to comply by the spring of 2005. All suppliers must have RFID at the pallet and case level by 2007.

Target is extremely popular in the U.S. with women looking for upscale, yet inexpensively priced, housewares. Target joins discount retailer Walmart in requiring suppliers to tag goods.

Source is the RFID Journal, with a hat tip to Anders at RFIDbuzz.com who rightly observes:

    "Such massive retailers have a large market muscle and are likely to be the main drivers for RFID adaptation "everywhere" in Retail / Supply chain over the next years."

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