What do you get when you put 100 or so of the world's leading educators and RFID users in a room for two days? A pretty good glimpse of the burgeoning technology's future.
That became evident in late January when the world's top authorities on RFID gathered at the first RFID Academic Convocation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The invitation-only event addressed not only the future of RFID, but also the challenges that confront businesses seeking to use the technology.
At the event, Sanjay Sarma, a member of the EPC Global board of directors, described a future in which RFID-generated data would alter the dynamics of the retail supply chain. Retailers would no longer take ownership of the merchandise they sell, he suggested.
Instead, they would essentially act as brokers. The suppliers themselves would take over responsibility for direct store deliveries and stocking store shelves, either doing it themselves or hiring a third party, like DHL, to make sure store shelves remained well stocked with their merchandise.
Bill Hardgrave, the director of the RFID Research Center at the University of Arkansas, provided an update on the research under way at the center. Hardgrave told attendees that the Research Center is now solely conducting Gen 2 technology projects "due to the demands from the industry." He added that researchers were working on projects that include middleware, public policy, animal identification and tracking, and truck trailer tracking.
Simon Langford, chief RFID strategist at Wal-Mart, told attendees that the mega-retailer has Gen 2 equipment in place and that the new version of the technology demonstrated great promise. "Gen 2 is showing a real step change in performance," he said.
Langford also reported that Wal-Mart was close to rolling out a fleet of RFID-enabled forklifts. The forklifts, which are still undergoing pilot testing, could be in use at approximately 100 Sam's Club stores this year and perhaps in distribution centers as well. He also confirmed that Wal-Mart would begin using handheld RFID scanners in stores' back rooms this year to identify products needed to restock shelves. But Langford is already looking beyond handheld scanners: he says he's awaiting the introduction of wearable mobile units. Beats the blue smocks!