Weve all been through the experience. After a long flight, we wait at baggage claim, waiting it seems forever and wondering if the bags will arrive. We check different bags (because they all seem so alike). On especially bad bag days, the bags dont arrive (for a long time) and we go through the horror of imagining their loss! Wouldnt it be nice if bags could talk with our boarding pass, and send out alerts if (a) they werent on the same flight as us, and (b) when they are close to us as they make their way on the baggage conveyor belt. That day may be coming close, thanks to a technology called radio frequency identification (RFIDs).
RFID systems consist of smart tags and reader devices. The tags send out radio frequency signals, which can be picked up in a short range by readers. Unlike bar codes which can carry very limited information, smart tags can store and broadcast object-specific information, giving each item its own unique identify and history. This aspect of RFID systems is creating applications which may today seem like science fiction, but will quickly become reality.
Glover Ferguson, writing in Harvard Business Review (June 2002), provides some examples:
Another example comes from the New York Times (July 7,2002): Millions of motorists in the Northeast have discovered the convenience of E-ZPass, which lets them move quickly through toll stations as electronic readers automatically deduct their fees. The system has become so popular that the consortium of states that operates the technology has increased its projections for its use to 53 percent of vehicles, from 35 percent. The paper also talks about SpeedPass, which lets customers pay for gasoline and convenience-store products at Exxon and Mobil service stations.
The article says that RFIDs convenience is now opening it up to new uses in mobile commerce: RFID systems are much faster than other types of payment. There is no fumbling through a wallet, no punching in personal identification numbers, no signatures and, most certainly, no Web browsing. All that is needed is a tiny device called a transponder that might hang on a customer’s key chain and is waved in front of an electronic reader like a magic wand.
Tomorrow: RFIDs (continued)