September 1, 2006
Column | rfidwatch

Big Brother, can you spare a dime?

By John R. Johnson

The Department of Defense is doing its part to advance the adoption of RFID technology by speeding up installations at its 19 U.S. distribution centers. By the end of this month, all depots should be wired to receive cases and pallets carrying RFID tags.

Now the question is whether the U.S. government will become so enamored of RFID that it will agree to fund additional research into the technology.Although the government has made no such commitment to date, the prospect of federal funding was widely discussed behind the scenes at a congressional RFID caucus held in July.

Ironically, on the same day the caucus was held, the European Union announced a $7 million-plus commitment to fund RFID research—a fact that did not go unnoticed by caucus attendees. The EU's three-year funding initiative is dedicated to research, development, training and demonstrations in the use of RFID based on EPCglobal standards. "RFID is being funded in Europe, so maybe that will be a key takeaway for the senators," says Michael J. Liard, the principal RFID analyst at ABI Research and a panelist at the caucus."Maybe in time, the [U.S. government] will see fit to fund some RFID efforts here. We know that vendors are developing technology, but there is a lot of work going on in ... academia as well. Those projects have various funding efforts, but the question is whether the U.S. government will fund some of these initiatives as well."

Funding for research is desperately needed to advance the adoption of RFID technology. For example, at an RFID convocation held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) earlier this year, participants determined that tens of millions of dollars—most likely much more—would be necessary just to fund all of the research projects put on the table at the meeting by academics from around the world.

Though the topic of funding wasn't on the congressional caucus's agenda, the event did include a panel discussion with industry experts and vendor demonstrations, all aimed at educating U.S. policymakers on the potential of RFID technology, policy and applications. The event was the first in a series of programs designed to debunk some of the myths about RFID while promoting a better understanding of the technology.

"The goal is for lawmakers to legislate against bad behavior such as the illegal use of RFID data, and not to legislate against RFID technology itself," says Liard. "We urged senators to avoid reactive RFID legislation without proactive RFID education."

About the Author

John R. Johnson
John Johnson joined the DC Velocity team in March 2004. A veteran business journalist, John has over a dozen years of experience covering the supply chain field, including time as chief editor of Warehousing Management. In addition, he has covered the venture capital community and previously was a sports reporter covering professional and collegiate sports in the Boston area. John served as senior editor and chief editor of DC Velocity until April 2008.

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