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In Tokyo's Shopping District, Auto-ID Tags Are the Latest Fad
Sunday marks the start of an experiment in ubiquitous computing, where RFID and other types of tags, read by cell phones and special handheld devices, will serve as virtual tour guides.
Jan 18, 2007—Starting Sunday, visitors to Tokyo's Ginza shopping district can take part in a new experimental information network, created by Japan's Ubiquitous ID Center. The objective of the seven-week trial is to test the feasibility of an information network that visitors can use to quickly and easily gather information about their surroundings, according to Ken Sakamura, a professor of information science at the University of Tokyo. Sakamura is also chairman of the Ubiquitous ID Center, a nonprofit research organization (see Japanese Promote Ubiquitous RFID).
In the case of the Ginza trial, Sakamura says, the system uses RFID and other auto-identification technologies to provide sightseers and shoppers with information and directions for sites and retailers of interest, and to inform individuals with disabilities about accessibility options. The group hopes the pilot program will verify the usefulness of the proposed system in a commercial setting, while revealing any problems that might be encountered during a permanent deployment. It will also use the project to measure demand for such a wireless information network.
The project will employ many different types of automatic-ID tags embedded in posters throughout Ginza's pedestrian walkways—totaling approximately half a mile in length—as well as along a small underground pedestrian area. There are four different types of auto-ID tags: Fujitsu's passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags, compliant with the ISO 15693 air-interface protocol; active 315 MHz RFID tags, made by YRP Ubiquitous Networking Labs, a technology company linked to the Ubiquitous ID Center and chaired by Sakamura; active tags that transmit data using standardized infrared technology, developed by the Infrared Data Association (IrDA); and paper labels printed with a two-dimensional bar code that can be read using cameras or laser-based scanners able to support 2-D bar coding.
A 128-bit identification number, called a ucode (unrelated to NXP's UCode RFID chip), is written to each tag—regardless of which type it is. The Ubiquitous ID Center developed the ucode as a numbering system that can be utilized in compliance with such numbering standards as the Japanese Article Number (JAN), a bar-code standard comparable to the European Article Number and Universal Product Code standards. The center supports the four types of auto-identification technologies—from printable 2-D bar codes to more sophisticated RFID and infrared tags—because it believes they can be used to support a wide diversity of applications and cost structures.
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