Although radio-frequency identification, or RFID, has been used for years to track high-value goods such as car subassemblies in a factory or electronic components in a warehouse, only recently has the technology become cheap enough to deploy in high-volume retail environments. As costs come down, “RFID technology is opening up to new applications like [mobile] commerce, baggage tracking, and in-store uses,” says Deepak Shetty, an analyst at Frost Sullivan.
What makes RFID so hot in an otherwise tepid technology market? Compared with bar codes–the 30-year-old industry standard for product identification–RFID systems require less manipulation by humans even as they hold more useful data. Whether powered by a battery or an external signal, all RFID devices contain a computer chip able to store hundreds of characters of data (vs. just 12 or 15 characters for a bar code) plus a tiny antenna that communicates with a receiver.
The oft-quoted application example for RFIDs is in supermarkets where shampoo bottles or cereal boxes will have built-in RFID chips (costing no more than a few pennies) which would broadcast to the “smart shelf” whenever they are picked up, thus providing a real-time update to inventory management systems.
Three applications I’d like to see:
– in libraries, to prevent mis-filing of books
– embed the chips in luggage so one knows exactly when the bags is coming after arriving at airports (or even if they have gotten on the flight!)
– finding the TV remote and the cellphone