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RFID needs to fade away

11/03/08 | John R. Johnson | email

Intel has done a fabulous branding job with its "Intel Inside" campaign. The RFID industry might want to employ a similar strategy someday. As RFID technology continues to forge ahead – ABI Research predicted this week that the market will reach $9.8 billion by 2013 -- it still faces the uphill battle of dealing with privacy concerns.

What RFID really needs to do is go away – fade to the background and become a mainstream part of information technology systems.

What RFID really needs to do is go away – fade to the background and become a mainstream part of information technology systems. With a subtle "RFID Inside" approach, the industry can focus on the technology’s benefits, and not the technology itself. RFID is already embedded in many material handling systems as standard technology and operates in relative obscurity.

"In order for people to understand RFID technology and the benefits that it can bring, we had to bring RFID to the forefront to raise awareness and increase adoption," says Mike Liard, Research Director for RFID & Contactless at ABI Research. "But as you start to look at the technology and the way it interacts with different enterprise systems and the infrastructure that is required, we can no longer treat RFID as a silo. It's going to be part of a suite of technologies helping to enable different business processes."

Liard points to the fact that RFID will coexist with wireless and sensor applications in many environments, as well as coexisting with 1D and 2D bar codes in other situations. As the technology continues to gain widespread adoption, RFID must not be treated as a silo but as a larger auto-ID and data capture solution or as part of a larger suite of IT offerings.

"Going forward we need to focus a little bit more on what we can do to allow people to forget that RFID is there," John Jones, executive creative director for R/GA, said during a panel discussion at RFID World. "What can we as an industry do to allow people to focus more on what the technology does" as opposed to focusing on the technology itself.

Jones pointed to the NikePlus program offered by the running shoe and equipment manufacturer. Utilizing an RFID chip in a running shoe and a wrist band that acts as a reader, the program tracks individual training runs, running pace and other critical information that runners can compare down the road. The emphasis is on the coolness of the application, not on the fact that RFID makes it work. The same can be said for the convenience of the toll collection systems like E-ZPass, which functions much in the same way. Millions of drivers bypass long lines and pass through toll booths every day without giving RFID technology much thought.

Many other consumer facing applications are quickly coming to the forefront, like item level tagging of fashion apparel items and the use of the technology to track people, be it RTLS solutions to track miners, or systems installed in warehouses and distribution centers that lessen he likelihood of forklift truck accidents.

"It’s amazing to me how quickly people stop worrying about privacy issues when the value of the technology outweighs the negative issue of whether big brother is watching," says Adrian Jennings, CTO of Time Domain Corp., which offers ultra wideband real-time location solutions. Jennings believes that line of thinking is critical for RFID to become ubiquitous.

For that to happen, however, the technology needs to function seamlessly for the end user and remain behind the scenes. "I think ubiquity means invisibility," says Jennings. "Ubiquity means that everything is made easy for the end user. It's easy to choose, easy to buy and easy to install, and overall an easy experience for the end user while blending the technology into the background."

Jennings points to Bluetooth technology as an example of the direction that RFID could follow.

"I don’t care how Bluetooth works," he says. "I just want to push a button on my cell phone and get a wireless link to my earpiece."click to jump to top

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