RFID: Opening New Vistas

DQI Bureau
New Update

From Lord Kelvin to Ken Olson to the great Thomas Watson,

all have tried to play oracle, but did not do a great job. However, the

soothsayer who warned Julius Caesar of the Ides of March was bang on target.

Actually he is the only one I know who looked like a professional playing

oracle. Despite knowing the dangers of putting one foot in a place where it

hurts, I still fall prey to the strong temptation of playing “soothsayer.”

Let's try and gaze into the crystal ball to see how the future of RFID

applications will look like.


The Future

Some estimates suggest that in the very near future, simple RFID tags will

cost as low as five US cents or maybe less. That will open floodgates for

economical widespread use. Actually at that level, they will be so cheap that

you could also think of implanting them in wine glasses (Yes, you read that

right!) At that place, the tag provides a novel way of sensing the level of wine

in a glass and will then communicate the information to restaurant staff so that

they know when a glass is almost empty and requires a refill of wine or water or

any other liquid that resides in the glass. This will help the restaurant

deliver immaculate and unobtrusive service and obviously create a huge potential

for sales spikes. In fact wine and liquors are high-margin restaurant items. The

dual impact of the technology will unleash a huge potential new-to-world market.

ExxonMobil has introduced

Speedpass, an RFID-based system for payment. Customers subscribe to

Speedpass for free and provide a credit card number for making petrol


Let's look at another application. An RFID tag can be

embedded in a pizza delivery bag to create smart pizza delivery bag. The

embedded tag can then use a heat and time algorithm to calculate when it should

tell a base unit to stop charging the heating element. A thermal switch

connected to the RFID tag can provide an additional layer to stop the heating.

With embedded algorithms newer non-metallic heating elements can be tested

instead of the conventional metallic heating elements. This will help create

bags that are energy efficient and can be lighter considering the use of newer

materials for its heating element.


The automotive sector is another area that will feel a

widespread change because of RFID. Ford is actually using RFID extensively on

its manufacturing lines for engines. Most cars in the future will come with

smart RFID tags, which will forever point out not only the location but also the

health of the vehicle. In a simple scenario, readers will be mounted on lamp

posts and the real speed of a car zipping past two lamp posts will require just

a little simple arithmetic. The RFID tag will also reveal the identity of the

owner to the reader and also an associated mobile number. An electronic

over-speeding challan will be generated and text messaged to the offender within

a couple of seconds.

The Present

The Chicago Marathon is a mega event that has nearly 40,000 runners

participating. It is a gigantic challenge to track runners over the race course

and provide them with accurate running times. That's because at a typical

marathon, many runners stand behind each other at the starting line. When the

starter's pistol signals a race's beginning, only a few runners cross the

starting line in sync with the timekeeper. This means that these few runners,

the race leaders, are the only ones who receive accurate split and finishing

times. Under the Chicago Marathon's previous practices, staff guided all

runners who successfully crossed the finish line into chutes where race numbers

and elapsed times were recorded by officials. When runners completed the race

very close to one another, these chutes would sometimes get backed up, making it

difficult for officials to record runners' times accurately causing

frustration for race participants and staff alike.

Enter RFID tag! A tag is attached to the running shoes of

all race participants. With a few readers strategically placed along the route,

Chicago Marathon staff can now record the precise start, finish and split times

of each runner, giving them an accurate account of their performance.


What's more, readers along the route ensure that all

runners follow the correct course, dissuading those who might be tempted to


Hang on there's more. Another service generated out of

the RFID tagging is MarathonMessenger, an e-mail service that provides its

subscribers with information on runner timings allowing friends, family and

marathon fans to stay abreast of events. In its first year of use at the Chicago

Marathon, the service had 15,000 registered users!

Let's look at another one. ExxonMobil, one of the

world's largest energy companies, introduced Speedpass, an RFID-based system

for payment. Customers subscribe to Speedpass for free and provide a credit card

number for making petrol purchases. In return, they receive a small transponder

attached to a key ring. When a customer swipes the transponder in front of the

petrol pump, it authorizes the pump to release petrol or diesel and charges the

customer's credit card.


Speedpass creates a number of conveniences for customers.

First, Speedpass purchases take about 15% less time than credit card purchases.

Second, Speedpass purchases are more reliable: magnetic credit card stripes are

prone to damage which can make purchasing inconvenient for customers whose

damaged cards can't be read by credit card terminals. Speedpass goes even

further, allowing easier checkout at convenience stores. Research suggests that

as much as 65% of the revenues of a petrol pump in the US are non-fuel related.

The results put in one word have been striking. Speedpass

subscribers, on average, visit Mobil petrol pumps one more time each month and

spend 2 — 3% more each month than other customers.

No Slowing Down

While history is a bad yardstick to forecast the future, nonetheless it must

not be forgotten that technology is the greatest catalyst for change. From

railways to automobiles, from radio to TV to computers, technology has never

failed to amaze and get done the unthinkable. It's precisely this attribute

that has proven all the soothsayers wrong, and hopefully me too. And I quote

Prof Harold J. Leavitt, Kilpatrick Professor Emeritus at the Stanford Graduate

School of Business, “Regardless of other economic trends, technology itself

has no brakes nor an OFF button, so the new world is unlikely either to slow

down or to level off. Information technology has a long way to go before it

comes into full flower, and other world changing technologies are ripening close


And by the way, the wine glass thing I talked about is a

project being developed by Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs!!

Mohit Chhabra

The auther is principal consultant with FiNoble Advisors