How RFID and NFC will reimagine our lives in 2014
From microchips in cats to chips in hospital bracelets, the RFID industry is not only alive and well, but branching out in some unexpected, even quirky ways. So RFIDinsider tapped a range of sources to assess what likely lies ahead as we turn the page on another year.
Some of the developments are expected—making a payment transaction with just a tap of a card or using tablets instead of textbooks—but other trends, even controversial ones such as RFID-enabled student ID badges or branding to push NFC technology, as with Android’s 4.4-Kit-Kat tie-in, really are fresh and exciting.
Co-location is the word
John Consoli, executive vice-president with Asset VUE in Bristol, Pennsylvania, says primary trends include moving business offsite and creating “co-located” facilities, as well as integrating workflow tools with RFID in the office.
“The migration of assets from a corporate location into a co-location or rented location really has driven the need and enhanced the focus of where assets are moving to,” says Consoli. “One of the hottest trends is using RFID technology to manage migration…so …cloud computing and co-location data center(s), a lot of enterprise companies and (other) businesses have decided they do not need to be in the data center business. They’re moving into co-located facilities where the service provider owns and operates the data center.”
Another trend, melding workflow into RFID, means greater efficiency and accountability. Customers are taking the technology and marrying it with other “monitoring tools” in the data center, Consoli says. “It’s really a trend toward integration, as opposed to, if you go back a couple years, customers evaluating [RFID] as a standalone technology.”
For example, “the leading product out there, Remedy, is a tool where help desks log problems into a data center and Remedy generates work tickets for the maintenance team to go in and fix things. Integrating RFID with a tool like Remedy has an impact on how long it takes the maintenance team to find things,” says Consoli. It’s used as a “swipe ticket” which cuts way back on wasted time, he says.
Indeed, says Brian Jones of New York’s Control Group, which has implemented some cool technology in the NYC subway system, RFID is now able to “redo a lot of workplace innovation” and this technology is enabling workers “(to come) onboard faster. It is also adding “a layer of security” in the workplace.
Indeed, all one has to do is visit an office in Manhattan, and she’s being read from the moment she crosses through the electronic entryway past the guard station, and then oftentimes upon entering the company quarters. Whether or not even a majority are using RFID remains to be seen, but RFID in the cosmopolitan office is becoming de rigueur.
Jones alludes to what he calls the “smart office” first envisioned in the 1990s, but now “we’ve actually made it real.”
Smaller means better
Texas-based David Chose with HID Global in North America says their clients are miniaturizing.
“Many customers are approaching HID Global with the desire to have the smallest tag possible,” he says. “Currently, the company’s smallest tag is about the size of a grain of rice.”
He touts their “direct bonding process” for allowing the RFID wire antenna to directly connect to a micro-sized chip “without the need for bulky module housing and without additional soldering material”.
As a result, the direct bonding process facilitates the creation of smaller or thinner RFID-based products, which he claims are more reliable and cost-effective.
Yet, when it comes to small there are concerns.
Firstly, for those concerned about “Big Brother”, the tinier the tracking technology the easier it is to hide, just like in a crime show.
Secondly, as with any small technology, working with it takes a good pair of eyes, nimble hands and a failsafe method of tracking. Think of how easy it is to lose your cell phone, but not your overnight bag.
Thirdly, whenever something is new there are intangibles; who knows what we’ll be talking about next year if all the RFID tracking technology becomes infinitesimally small?
Speaking of travel, RFID and NFC are becoming more and more a part of our everyday lives when we fly – from boarding to takeoff.
Pedro Martinez, of the mobile financial services business unit with European-based Gemalto, chairs the NFC Forum’s Air Travel Taskforce . He is working to bring awareness to how NFC in particular is used in air travel.
He says the International Air Travel Association (IATA) “has ID’d NFC technology as technology that can bring significant benefits (to the industry).”
For example, technology to read boarding passes can be overhauled, he says.
“Today if you look at it, the boarding pass, … [with its] bar code, has become pretty common but they have certain limitations, [which can]… result in some delays.”
Other limitations include having your phone run out of batteries, thereby making it impossible to read a boarding pass from the mobile device; or just having to search madly for a phone in order to read the pass, meanwhile angering that surly businessman behind you in line.
NFC technology can change all of that because it will smartly read your pass, if all goes according to vision.
On its website, the IATA also touts what could become a standard by the end of 2014: permanent bag tags. “Available in different hard-wearing forms and with a variety of robust attachments, the permanent tag promises to deliver yet another improvement to the passenger experience,” the organization website states.
IATA has even set up a special Permanent Tag Working Group involving airlines and suppliers to smooth the transition to these types of bag tags, which would be tailored to individual journeys. Information would be uploaded to the tag via smartphone or at the airport, and IATA says the tags will look a lot like paper tags. The tag with its unique ID would then be paired with a traveler’s itinerary, ensuring the bag or bags get to the right destination, they say.
The Working Group’s real work comes in with regard to NFC, which is not yet standardized across the world. Obviously, the bags and tags must work as seamlessly in Peoria as they do in Peking.
Students on the verge
As revolutionary, the education industry – and it is a multi-billion-dollar industry worldwide – is changing the way your kids learn their ABC’s, or at least obtain their B.A.s.
Luckily today’s college student thinks nothing of using electronics and technology to study – much in the way those of us from the ‘80s generation lugged home twenty pounds of books from the campus store.
Getting back to Consoli, he says the third-biggest trend he sees is the growing demand among high schools and colleges for RFID.
“Textbooks are being replaced by tablets,” he says. “We are seeing a big demand for RFID to track the movement and presence of a tablet or hand-held devices.”
So what about bookstores?!
Well, they still exist but to a lessening degree.
Consoli’s two kids are both in college, and his son, a sophomore at National Community College on Long Island, is only reading actual books about 30 percent of the time; the other 70 percent is electronic learning.
Pebble in the shoe
Yet, even those in the business such as Consoli recognize the challenges in this space.
“The pebble in our shoe is return on investment, showing the customer the ROI,” says Consoli. “With RFID there are a lot of intangibles, so documenting that and delivering it to the customer so … [they can] justify to someone in management the ROI for implementing RFID, is by far our biggest business challenge.”
He also cites the chemical reactions or lack thereof that are problematic, a recurring theme amongst sources for this story.
“RFID has two cryptonites – it can’t move through water or metal – and while we usually don’t encounter water in room, cabinets are metal,” he says, explaining how his firm has learned to work around the challenge by installing the tags inside the cabinet. Because the outside of the computer is metal, the customer has to open the door of the cabinet “to allow the signals to communicate.”
Control Group’s Jones brought this problem up as well.
“Is a room metal or marble? You must simulate …[the actual reaction] of the material [with] radio frequency,” he says. Potentially, the metal will hugely affect the ability for the RFID to work correctly. “Metal creates a Faraday Cage, a situation in which current flows around the object [but not through it]. “
Because of the metal problem, Control Group integrates systems into what has already been built, working with their clients “to gain as much clarity before installation”.
So what’s Jones’s dream room?
“Styrofoam!” he jokes.