Fifteen years ago my ThingMagic co-founders and I worked as research assistants in the MIT Media Lab’s Things-That-Think consortium. Our main agenda was to embed intelligence in everyday objects such as clothing, toys, and furniture. We quickly realized how important passive RFID would be for implementing the vision of smart and networked objects and ultimately the Internet-of-Things. Today, passive UHF RFID outperforms any other technology in applications where a large number of tags are attached to inexpensive objects and where readers are embedded in the environment to quietly understand the objects around them without human intervention.
In the years since, we haven’t always been true to this insight into the sweet spot of RFID applications. In fact, my co-founder Ravi Pappu and I like to pride ourselves in having proposed the use of RFID for just about any imaginable scenario. In our enthusiasm for the technology and our eagerness to help customers, we have put tags on people, retail shelves and vehicles of all types including fighter jets, locomotives and racecars. None of these applications deal with millions of inexpensive objects; most of these applications require expensive, portal-type reader set-ups; and none of these applications helped the RFID industry develop its full economic promise.
On the other hand, when we deployed embedded RFID reader modules, usually with the help of OEM customers, our efforts resulted in scalable projects generating long-term repeat-business. This success can only partially attributed to our market leading position in UHF modules. Embedded RFID readers quite simply outnumber their fixed reader cousins by an order of magnitude, much like WiFi-enabled devices outnumber WiFi access points.
The most successful embedded RFID applications continue to be RFID-enabled printers and RFID-enabled handheld terminals. RFID-enabled label printers, for example those made by Zebra Technologies, are a necessary ingredient of any high-volume RFID application. Labels have to be encoded, no matter what you use them for.
RFID-enabled handheld terminals have become the workhorses for the majority of workflow applications. In logistics, retail, or construction alike, workers need to truly interact with the objects they are handling. They require a user interface to fill out forms, collect the electronic signature of a customer, or record the geo-location of a particular object. RFID-enabled handheld terminals offer these capabilities: at the low-end, terminals include Bluetooth and a single-button user interface; at the high-end, terminals include every imaginable wireless capability in addition to RFID, along with a full keyboard and a big screen. For example, see Trimble Announces New RFID Accessory for Nomad Handheld. All of these devices include one common element: a ThingMagic embedded RFID reader module.
More recently, other exciting embedded applications have emerged: Keurig is embedding RFID readers in their single-cup coffee machines. The machine recognizes the RFID-enabled coffee container and optimizes its settings to produce the best coffee possible.
Intel is enabling its OEM customers to embed RFID tags with every Windows 8 tablet computer at the time of manufacturing. This will enable embedded readers track the devices during the manufacturing process and into distribution. Retailers will be able to offer customized licensed features and configure the tablets using embedded RFID readers at the point of sale. Service centers will be reading out information about a device without even taking it out of the box or powering it on. How will they read out the information? They will be using RFID-enabled handheld terminals or other embedded readers.
In conclusion, once in a while we should remind ourselves why we got excited about passive RFID in the first place: we saw the opportunity to make inexpensive, small, but pervasive objects part of the networked world. Embedded RFID readers continue to be key to realizing that vision.
Robots have certainly undergone their share of transformation over the years – from the stereotypical robot in “Lost in Space” to the child-friendly WALL-E – and I think Kevin Ashton, in a recent RFID Journal article, made a good point in arguing that robots have managed to shed creepy images, but have yet to make the complete transition to being human-like.
One ongoing limitation is that robots have not been able to have a true dialogue with humans - like that between Luke Skywalker and C-3PO, who boasted to be fluent in "over six million forms of communication"! Can RFID bridge this communication gap?
A few years ago, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Duke University embarked on a project where they used ThingMagic readers with robots in a healthcare setting. With long-range read capability, the robot named EL-E can move freely while still being able to detect RFID tags in various locations, and a finger-mounted, short-range antenna enables her to interact with a tagged object, such as handing a stethoscope to a physician. EL-E can also assist physically-impaired people, giving them the appropriate medicine bottle when they are unable to help themselves. We’ve blogged before about how improving the patient experience can also accelerate the patients’ recovery. A robotic right-hand-man could allow nurses and physicians to spend more time researching, talking to and engaging with their patients, and therefore being able to treat the individual.
Check out another robot from Georgia Tech's Healthcare Robotics Lab - GATSBII - a PR2 robot from Willow Garage outfitted with patch antennas and a ThingMagic M5e reader, as seen on CNN’s The Big I show!
More recently, and right here in Boston, we are seeing more investment in robot technology with companies like Rethink Robotics looking for new ways to make our industries more efficient and cost-effective. Their flagship product, Baxter, is designed to fit seamlessly into a manufacturing environment to take certain types of work off the hands of employees. Because of the enhanced level of interaction between human and robot, the robot can perform risk-posing tasks such as climbing a tower to do repairs, or repetitive, assembly line work that could free up people to do more complex, value-added tasks. In doing so, people can become more productive and the business is more efficient. And we all know that greater efficiency is the key to success in today’s economy.
The video below demonstrates how Baxter interacts with humans.
With RFID tags becoming more ubiquitous , can this be the technology that breaks down that communication barrier between robots and people?
It may be a while before we can think of a robot like C-3PO as our wing-man, but with RFID we may be able to more naturally interact with the next generation of robots – not in Hollywood - but in the business arena.
A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to be able to speak with InformationWeek’s Jeff Bertolucci, a respected voice in the Big Data space. In a conversation stemming from our Future of RFID infographic, we discussed the role RFID is playing in the revolution brought on by devices communicating with one another and individuals and enterprises relying more on technology.
In general, we are all connecting more with the world around us every day and RFID can be thought of as an enabling technology that pulls it all together. Clearly it contributes to the amount of data generated by business and consumer activities, but it can also be used to manage it – and in the words of a recent report by InformationWeek, “the big data challenge is real.”
New and innovative uses of RFID are emerging on a daily basis - reshaping the way we (vendors, partners, end users) should be thinking about the technology. It can no longer be viewed as a niche technology or a replacement for barcodes. In a previous blog post, we introduced the intersection of RFID and Big Data to get people thinking about the technology in a bigger way. Business managers are seeing cost savings, consumers are enjoying new efficiencies, and generally speaking, people are able to more easily connect their online world with their physical world.
So what do you think – is RFID becoming more of a household name in Big Data conversations? Or do we have a few more years of flying under the radar?
In our view, RFID plays an important role in managing Big Data and facilitating the Internet of Things, even though it’s never been the flashy new technology that has commanded headlines - well, until now at least.
Inevitable, open, and inclusive are just a few words Rob van Kranenburg used in a recent article The Sensing Planet: Why The Internet Of Things Is The Biggest Next Big Thing to communicate the growth and adoption of what he loosely defines as the global process to enhance all objects with some form of digital identity. Van Kranenburg, a teacher and consultant on the topic, believes that U.S. industry and government bodies aren’t taking as active a role in its adoption as we are – the people – who are coming to own and drive the movement.
But don’t consider this a mark against it. This isn’t a bad sign for the Internet of Things. In fact, since its inception, the Internet we’ve seen evolve over the past twenty years has itself functioned a lot like the Wild West, with people driving its progress more quickly than any governing body or private business has. It’s clear that a number of factors will drive our world closer to this connected world, but we believe it’s RFID that will be the unsung hero supporting the people to drive this shift.
Van Kranenburg referred to RFID and the rest of the “ecology” surrounding the Internet of Things as “nothing fancy; mostly radio, quite mundane,” but that’s what we love about RFID. Its wallflower-like characteristics enable it to blend into our lives, and that’s the very reason it will drive this movement. If any technology requires extra steps, behavioral changes, or new inconveniences, it can’t take off.
We live in a connected world, but in reality it is hundreds and thousands of systems that all operate separately. RFID is the glue that passively, yet intelligently, connects our doctors to their patients, our cars to their parking spots, and our businesses to their products. It will be the connection between the intranets we already have established that forms the Internet of Things we all imagine coming to life.
Van Kranenburg will be communicating how he perceives the Internet of Things at the PICNIC conference this week in Amsterdam. In fact, the theme of this year’s PICNIC is “The Shift from Top Down to Bottom Up,” articulating that it’s the people driving innovation, not the legislators and business leaders up top.
For an idea of what’s possible with RFID growth, Tik Tik, one of the businesses attending PICNIC, is using the example of children checking themselves in and out of daycare with RFID keychains and rating activities they’ve chosen there for their parents to see via a secure Web site. The conference will most likely usher in a new era of understanding just how universally applicable RFID technology has become. I’m willing to bet that in years to follow, RFID will have a much bigger presence at this show because people will have recognized its role in driving the Internet of Things. If you’re not yet convinced, we have an Infographic that could change your mind.
If you’ve ever circled city blocks over and over looking for a parking spot (which should be just about anybody who’s ever tried to find parking in a city), you’ve probably wished a voice would just tell you exactly where to go. And if navigating congested city streets has ever frustrated you, it won’t be surprising to hear that more than 30 percent of traffic congestion in cities is caused by drivers looking for parking.
According to a study performed by UCLA Professor Donald Shoup, who surveyed 15 city blocks for one year in downtown Los Angeles, the search for a parking spot created about 950,000 extra miles of travel – equivalent to about 38 trips around Earth! Not only is this excess travel clogging city streets, it is wasting gasoline - 47,000 gallons in those same 15 blocks, or about two and a half swimming pools. This is money, time, and resources that drivers and city officials have been letting go to waste for years.
People take crowded city streets as a given, but in reality there are massive inefficiencies that are entirely surmountable, particularly with RFID technology in place. In cities ranging from Stockholm to San Francisco, the parking technology firm Streetline is partnering with IBM to install RFID-based parking-management systems as part of IBM’s Smarter Cities initiative (a subset of Smarter Planet, focused on congestion solutions, greener buildings, water management systems, and the like).
Logistically, this involves embedding transponders in the pavement of a city’s parking spots, attaching readers to permanent structures like lamp posts, and setting this system up to transmit information to a software platform from IBM that can manage the data that comes from Streetline’s readers. Magnetic sensors installed in the pavement can detect whether or not a vehicle is in a given parking space, meaning cities can now view the flow of parking availability in real time. Doing so has allowed city officials and drivers alike to realize that at any given time there can be as many as 2,000 parking spots available, when many had believed there were none. Amazing.
For drivers, finding a parking spot no longer has to involve circling and clogging the already-congested city streets, a process that on average will take 20 minutes in a business district, according to IBM’s Global Parking Survey. That could be the difference between being late for a business meeting or making it on time. Instead, it can be as simple as loading the free “Parker” app, looking at open spots nearby on the map, and navigating to the most convenient one.
City management stands to gain the most from the technology, as they have access to Streetline data, trends, and reports, enabling their parking managers and enforcement officers to work more efficiently. Managers of parking garages can locate spots that have been occupied for too long or are vacant, and can use that information to better serve their customers. And a better understanding of the flow of traffic and parking availability also allows for more efficient planning of transit schedules and infrastructure projects around the trends city officials see.
Based on the costs of inefficient parking management revealed by the UCLA survey referenced above, Streetline can save people time, money, and gas, while simultaneously bringing in more revenue for a city from the efficiencies created, particularly from a more organized system of issuing parking tickets and better accommodations for tourism. This can make a difference for municipalities facing big budget deficits that need new and better sources of revenue. If city governments can significantly reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, and drivers can save time and gas money simply by gaining better visibility into open parking spaces, it’s a worthwhile investment that has the potential to pay for itself in a very short period of time.
Locationing and Auto-Identification technologies are being used in a number of waste management activities - from using GPS for fleet management, to RFID-enabled recycling incentive programs, to contributing to several breakthroughs in smart packaging.
And, the innovation continues. Just last week, Trimble Environmental Solutions announced cBin™, a new solution for managing remote recycling containers. According to the announcement, cBin allows hauling operations to save time and money by reducing fuel consumption, labor, and truck wear and tear incurred when they pick-up empty or partially full containers.
The cBin solution consists of a remote sensor that sends fill level and asset status information via wireless communications to a Web portal that can be accessed to manage container inventory and pickups. cBin sensors automatically measure container fill levels hourly and send updates to the cBin portal.
The scBin Portal ummary screen provides an "at a glance" view of all containers in a community for rapid evaluation of container status. Immediate updates are sent if fill levels exceed action levels.
While GPS technology has certainly been a difference-maker for fleet management, and now container monitoring, Challande – a Swiss waste management and material transportation company – chose to integrate RFID with GPS, setting them up for a greater return on their investment than if they just had GPS alone.
For 10 years, when Challande had a GPS system in place, they could see where their trucks were located and could then manually track down the various containers and waste bins they owned – a system that got the job done, but not one that was entirely efficient. Challande has hundreds of pieces of equipment they need to monitor. By attaching RFID tags to trailers, trucks, and cargo this year, they have been able to gain a more comprehensive view of the many moving parts of their company. The difference from using GPS alone? Now the exact location and ID number of every bin and truck Challande owns is automatically aggregated and sent to their existing management software.
For Challande, the return on their investment is coming from all directions. Their risk of misplacing bins and other property is now practically non-existent. The time their employees used to spend tracking down bins is no longer an expense they have to account for. They don’t have to spend time or money implementing new management software, because they can integrate the new RFID tags with their existing system. Challande can even minimize delays in transportation and delivery by looking at an item’s distance from its destination and making adjustments on the fly.
Challande, and many others, are already watching their RFID systems pay for themselves. And, as highlighted in our Infographic – The Future of RFID, the convergence of RFID with technologies like GPS is helping companies better manage their assets and the myriad of moving pieces they are responsible for.
Over the next decade, the convergence of wireless technologies will be augmented by RFID systems and the integration of passive RFID as part of this platform will be driven by the potential to measure, report and monetize a growing number of transactions in the physical world. In certain applications, it is hard to imagine a future where everyday physical objects won’t have "built-in" RFID.
The emergence of RFID on the concert scene should really come as no surprise. As music festivals of all kinds are gaining popularity, organizers want their audiences to have one less thing to think about when it comes to getting in the door. RFID enabled wristbands do just that. In addition, they offer all kinds of added benefits - such as combatting ticket counterfeiting, supporting cashless payment, and even integrating with the fans' preferred social networks.
RFID was initially used as a ticketing solution for large outdoor music festivals, starting in 2004 with its adoption at SXSW in Austin, TX. It emerged in the form of wristbands and cut down significantly on gate crashing and lost tickets. It also introduced a cash-free payment system, which is undeniably popular since it can be risky to carry around large amounts of money. Though mainstream use of RFID spans nearly a decade, it wasn’t until its much publicized implementation at popular music festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo did people really begin to take notice.
According to a recent article published on Hypebot.com, RFID adoption at concerts has been steadily increasing; this year was no exception. The main focus of attention, though, was focused on concert goers ability to “Check-In” via their Facebook account. Companies such as Intellitix are contributing to the success of RFID and social media at the concert scene. At both Bonnaroo and Coachella this year, Intellitix powered Facebook check-ins via their “Live Click Stations” where fans could upload a picture of themselves to Facebook at their favorite band’s concert, surely becoming the envy of their friends!
It doesn't stop there. Fans are also able to go beyond Facebook status updates and include various tie-ins with sponsors and off-site partners. At Roger Waters-The Wall tour this year, more than 70,000 fans had their RFID enabled wristband linked to their Facebook account. This process allowed them to post messages from Amnesty International during the concert aimed at spreading awareness about Amnesty’s 50-year battle for human rights.
The statistics in this market are getting pretty interesting. At Coachella, more than 30,000 people registered to use the Live Click stations to update their status on Facebook. Bonnaroo took it to a whole new level with over 74,000 registrations for check-ins at the “largest Live Click Stations ever made.”
RFID offers proven benefits when it comes to streamlining concert admittance and combating ticket counterfeiting, but with the continued popularity of social media platforms, it is probably safe to say it hasn’t reached its peak!
It’s hard to say which event has been the most thrilling to watch; men’s swimming knowing that this may be Michael Phelps’ last Olympic hurrah, Usain Bolt setting an Olympic record in the 100-meter dash, or the fierce competitions in sports that we usually don’t get to see like fencing and water polo.
In the middle of ‘the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat’, of the London Olympics, we are also excited to hear of RFID-enabled social media’s place on the medal stand.
As the Official Treat Provider to the London 2012 Olympics, Cadbury has created Cadbury House – inflatable purple domes in Hyde Park where guests can easily share their experiences with friends and family. With a passive UHF RFID system created by dwinQ, guests at the Cadbury House can immediately link photos of their Olympic visit via their Facebook pages – creating a seamless (or as dwinQ calls it – frictionless) social media experience.
Here’s how it works: RFID Journal explains that guests are given badges that contain EPC Gen 2 passive UHF RFID tags. They then register their Facebook account information which is linked to the unique identification number encoded in the badge's RFID tag. When guests enter one of the Cadbury Houses, they can check in, simply by having the badge near a check-in kiosk, each outfitted with ThingMagic readers.
Once the first reader has checked-in a guest, he or she can simply go to any pre-determined location throughout the park, such as a photo area. The RFID reader in that area captures the tag's unique ID number in the badge, communicates the information to Dwinq's social-media platform, which then links the appropriate badge ID with the right Facebook account, and posts an update on the person's page.
Since the 2012 Games began, Cadbury House has been receiving approximately 3,500 visitors daily. The Company expects 50,000 guests to check-in over two weeks, which means that the Cadbury House Olympic experience will reach a huge number of people through social media channels. According to the press release, “The solution creates fun for guests while simultaneously amplifying Cadbury's brand messaging to hundreds of thousands of people beyond the event attendees.”
Once again we see that RFID + Social Media = Reach.
This is reminiscent of a similar experience offered at RFID Journal LIVE! a couple of years ago where attendees could extend their event experience over social media. Our case study, “Building Brand Loyalty and Reach through RFID and Social Media” can be downloaded here.
For more information, check out dwinQ’s blog post on their Olympic experience. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to “Like” ThingMagic and dwinQ on Facebook!
There has certainly been a lot of talk recently about innovation in the retail sector, a lot of which can be found in PSFK’s most recent Future of Retail Report. Essentially, it comes down to enhancing the customer experience. Retailers are listening to their shoppers and considering new technologies to deliver what they are asking for, whether it is a webcam enabled algorithm that helps them find the right fit or a location aware smartphone app that provides sales-staff with customers’ preferences.
The use of RFID in retail to deliver enhanced customer experiences is growing as well. For example, Macy’s recently announced in a Forbes article that RFID will be an integral part of the new 63,000 square foot shoe department opening this fall in their Herald Square location. Similarly, JCPenny CEO Ron Johnson revealed they would be moving “…to a 100% [item-level] RFID implementation by February 1, 2013.” Macy’s and JCPenny are not unique in their decision to embrace RFID, as many retailers now understand the countless advantages the technology has to offer (for more, see our blog posts on RFID in retail).
For Macy’s, installing RFID in the shoe department will be their first “broad use of RFID.” After shoes, Macy’s plans to expand into basic merchandise - items that they need to make sure are always in stock and are in need of constant replenishment.
JCPenny's RFID strategy is centered on revitalizing the customer experience at the century-old department store. According to reports, the retailer is starting by implementing an RFID-enabled mobile Point of Sale (POS) solution beginning this fall. This is the first step in the company's plan to use RFID storewide to eliminate traditional check-out stations. The end goal is to allow any customer to check out anywhere, anytime, including self-check-out, by 2014.
At the end of the day, RFID is about simplicity and innovation. By automating manual tasks, RFID technology can improve the customer experience while driving sales and reducing costs. Add progress made by industry organizations such as VICS and their templates for retail best practices, and the barriers to RFID adoption in become very low.
In 2010, we blogged about RFID in retail in the article RFID-The New Future of Retail. We noted Wal-Mart’s famous 2004 mandate requiring its top 100 suppliers to apply RFID tags to shipping crates and pallets to drive efficiencies into its supply chain, and many innovative uses of the technology since. With Macy’s and JCPenny grabbing some of the spotlight now, it sure seems like big retail players are beginning to recognize the value of RFID in meaningful ways - taking advantage of the process improvements it has promised to deliver for over a decade and enabling unique personalized customer experiences that today's shoppers are demanding.
Infographics are cool. They've been developed to visually represent data about a great many industries, places, and people. Everything from Understanding Carbon Offsets to 7 Things You Didn't Know About the Golden Gate Bridge to The History Of Steve Jobs & Apple have been depicted in Infographic form. Yes, there is even an Infographic of Infographics!
I've found a couple of Infographics that touch on The Internet of Things and the global supply chain like IBM's Stories of a Smarter Planet, but I was a bit surprised to find that there aren't many that cover Auto-ID technologies or RFID in particular. So, here's our pass at creating a visual representation of The Future of RFID. Take a ride along the path of Adoption, Convergence, the Internet of Things, and Big Data - ending in a place where RFID systems will become an integral part of the consumer and business experience!
Download a PDF of The Future of RFID Infographic and don't forget to let us know how we can help you with your RFID project!
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View more than 100 other innovative ways in which Radio Frequency Identification and Sensing (RFIDS) is being used to automate data collection, identification, and location systems worldwide - 100 Uses of RFID
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