8.2 RFID applications
As we pointed out in Section 7, the driving force for RFID development is coming from major retailers who want to track goods as they travel through the supply chain. Their purpose is to reduce the manual checking necessary, thereby cutting down on labour costs and reducing human error.
At the time of writing the cost of an RFID tag means that it is only economically viable to tag things like pallets, cases and high-value goods. We are not yet at the point where every tin of baked beans could be tagged. But as the price of an RFID tag drops and issues surrounding standards are clarified, RFID deployment is likely to become more widespread. As we mentioned earlier, the technology is already in use in the retail sector. Marks & Spencer has carried out trials of individual item tagging (men's suits, shirts and ties) in some of its London stores, the UK supermarket giant Tesco has trialled the tagging of razor blades and DVDs, and in Wal-Mart's Dallas store in the USA, printers and scanners have been tracked using RFID tags in their packaging. A Wal-Mart directive to its top 100 suppliers required them to use RFID tags on all pallets and cases entering the supply chain from January 2005.
Outside the retail sector there are some interesting uses for RFID tagging. When we were researching we saw reports of developments on diverse uses, among which were:
RFID tags inserted under the skin of clubbers in a Barcelona night spot to act as an entry card and to provide access to a debit account for bar bills (Losowsky, 2004);
RFID tags attached to library books, to assist in record keeping and shelf checking, reduce check-out overheads and prevent theft (Young, 2004);
RFID tags embedded in casino gambling chips to protect against fraud and money laundering (Hecht, 2004);
RFID tags to be incorporated in the labels of certain medicine bottles to deter counterfeiting (Information Week, 2004);
Development of RFID tags which can be incorporated into banknotes to counteract money laundering and counterfeiting (Williams, 2003).
Activity 33: exploratory
Use the Web to update yourself on some of the latest developments in RFID systems. (Hint: I used 'RFID news' as my search term in Google.) Visit two or three sites, pick one item you find interesting and make some brief notes about it. Then write about 200 words summarising the article and explaining why you found it particularly interesting. Make sure you include the date of the news item and the URL of the website where the information appeared.
Of course, I can't predict what RFID developments might be in the news at the time you conduct your research. So my comments are restricted to what I found myself when I did some research in early 2005.
These are the sites I visited:
RFID News site (www.rfidnews.org/), accessed 22 September 2006
RFID Gazette (www.rfidgazette.org/), accessed 22 September 2006
RFID Journal (www.rfidjournal.com/), accessed 22 September 2006
On the 'RFID journal' site some of the news articles were restricted to subscribers only so I couldn't access all of them.
Although my search revealed many news items that had only been posted on the day or within a week of my search, the one that interested me the most wasn't all that recent. It was from RFID News and was dated 10 June 2004. The URL was www.rfidnews.org/news/2004/06/10/rfidenabled-license-plates-to-identify-uk-vehicles/ .
Here is my summary and explanation of why I found this particular article interesting:
The article was about a pilot project (the e-Plates project) to embed active RFID tags in the licence plates of UK vehicles. The tags hold an encrypted ID number which can be matched to vehicle details held in a central database. The RFID readers can be fixed or mobile and can read tags travelling at speeds of up to 320 kilometres per hour and at distances of up to 100 metres. Unlike camera systems for reading licence plates, the RFID tags can be read in any weather conditions and through dirt on the plate. If anyone tries to remove the tag, the plate will shatter.
What really interested me about this site were the readers' comments at the end and the issues they raised. Some readers were in favour of such a system, saying that it would help with tracking stolen vehicles and would make the payment of road tolls much easier. Others were concerned that the technology would be used for detecting speeding violations and collecting fines, and about privacy issues arising from the location data that would be stored. One person expressed worries that the encrypted signal could somehow be recorded and played back later.
In case this is helpful, the notes I made whilst reading the article are shown in Figure 24.