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Microsoft Australia Seeks to Boost RFID Adoption Down Under

At this week's Microsoft Tech.Ed conference in Sydney, the company plans to issue passive EPC Gen 2 inlays to some 6,000 attendees, with the goal of inspiring new RFID applications.
By Dave Friedlos
Sep 02, 2008Microsoft Australia wants to inspire local businesses to adopt radio frequency identification when it rolls out an RFID system to track people at its Microsoft Tech.Ed conference, slated to take place Sept. 3-5, in Sydney.

The company has worked closely with integration specialists Breeze Consulting to create the RFID network for the event, which is aimed at IT professionals and developers. Some 6,000 attendees will carry passive RFID inlays placed behind name tags hanging from their necks. This will enable those in attendance to be tracked as they enter or leave one of 34 rooms at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre. The RFID network is the largest example of people-tracking in Australia, says Marcella Larsen, Microsoft Australia's senior product manager, and likely the largest in the world utilizing Microsoft BizTalk Server 2006.

"We want to show delegates what can be done with RFID using our application stack out-of-the-box," Larsen says. "RFID systems have traditionally been proprietary and required customization, which has slowed take-up in Australia, but this shows what can be done quickly and out-of-the-box. Many people are hung up on the cost of tags and hardware, but it is what can be done with the data generated by RFID that is incredible."

Microsoft plans to use the data to inform attendees which sessions are filling up, analyze which are the most popular with particular professions, adapt information to suit audience interests and improve social networking by directing delegates to the individuals with whom they want to speak. What's more, a person's entry into a room will trigger an animated avatar on screens in the room, using motion detection developed with Microsoft's Expression Blend, Silverlight 2 and Windows Presentation Foundation software.

"RFID is not just about tracking people or pallets, but building business intelligence," Larsen says, "and this network demonstrates that RFID can be adopted quickly and cheaply. We want this to serve as a call to action—we want people to come to our sessions and see what can be done before coming to us with ideas for RFID pilots." She adds that Microsoft Australia is also seeking opportunities to fund nonprofit organizations that could benefit from the technology. "We are working with local organizations, such as GS1 Australia, to promote RFID and show what can be done both in and outside the supply chain."

Mick Badran, a Breeze Consulting integration specialist who helped create the RFID network being deployed at Microsoft Tech.Ed, says the project's initial aim was to improve the experience for conference delegates. "RFID just seemed like the perfect fit," he states. "We didn't want delegates to have to queue and be individually checked in—we wanted to ensure they attended the sessions most relevant to them, and we wanted to provide feedback forms for only the sessions they attended. But there is also so much potential from analyzing the data."

Upon registering for the conference, delegates were asked a series of profile questions, which Badran says will allow organizers to make decisions about future conferences, as well as ascertain which sessions people most wanted to see. Mobile devices will be provided to exhibitors, enabling them to determine who visited them during the conference. This data could also be employed to direct attendees to specific conference speakers and experts. "That makes RFID a social networking tool that can ensure delegates are talking to the right people," Badran says.

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