What lies ahead for RFID technology? According to some of the visionaries who spoke at the September RFID World conference in Boston, all signs point to a bright future. Though they acknowledged that there are still obstacles (like privacy concerns and costs) to overcome, conference speakers agreed that these will fade over time. Privacy concerns, for example, are likely to diminish as consumers learn more about the technology and how they can benefit from it.
As for the long-held perception that RFID is too pricy, especially for small to mid-sized firms, Patrick Sweeney, president of ODIN technologies, noted that the March introduction of Intel's R1000 Gen 2 reader chip should result in a 40- to 60-percent drop in the price of RFID readers over the next six months. Last month, in fact, ThingMagic unveiled its tiny M5e-Compact reader, which uses the Intel chip. The chip integrates multiple components into an integrated RFID circuit and enables digital signal processing and analog data processing on the same tag.
Sweeney predicts that many companies will have more RFID readers than computer servers in the not-too-distant future and that most enterprises will employ more RFID readers than telephones by the year 2027.
Another trend noted by Sweeney is the growing number of wearable RFID devices emerging in the European market. "RFID technology, combined with ergonomics, will become very important in the future," he said.
Sweeney also reported that adoption of the technology has been brisk and that "companies that wait too long will be put in the penalty box."There will be a limited window of opportunity to gain a competitive advantage from the technology, he warned. Sooner or later, there will be massive adoption and companies will no longer be able to look to RFID for a competitive edge.
Also at RFID World, Jeff Schaengold, RFID product manager for Siemens Energy & Automation, told attendees how combining RFID, sensor networks, and packaging advancements will help make the food supply chain safer going forward.
"Intelligent smart packaging will be huge for the food industry," he said. Schaengold predicted that within two years, packaging will be created that will turn a specific color if E. coli or some other contaminant is detected inside the package. Through use of RFID technology, boxes of spoiled lettuce, for example, could be identified by their serial numbers and easily recalled. "The packaging of the future will be interactive," he said. "That authentication and product safety will be a real consumer value."
Shoppers at select retail stores in Minnesota and Oklahoma have a better chance of finding new DVDs in stock than the rest of us do, thanks to an RFID pilot program. Retailers there are in the midst of an eight-week program in which RFID tags are being placed on 12,000 individual DVDs sold at participating stores. About 15 newly released movie titles from 20th Century Fox, Cinram, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Technicolor, and Warner Home Video are involved in the trial. Retailers taking part in the Electronic Product Code (EPC) technology pilot include Wal-Mart and Best Buy.
The RFID-tagged DVDs could provide many benefits to consumers, including improved product availability and faster service. "We've all had the frustrating experience of a store associate telling us that a DVD is in stock, but they can't find it on the shelves," says Chris Adcock, president of GS1 EPCglobal. "EPC can help eliminate that problem."
When the trial ends this month, the participants hope to have gained enough information to move toward a larger-scale deployment of itemlevel RFID tags on DVDs and other items.
Editor's note: To learn more about how RFID is securing the supply chain for DVDs and other electronic products, see the feature story on page 36.