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Inside Auto-ID Labs

In the excitment surrounding the build-up and ratification of GEN 2, an important lasting vestige of the Auto-ID Center has slipped below the radar: Auto-ID Labs.
May 03, 2005This article was originally published by RFID Update.

May 3, 2005—Since the Auto-ID Center closed its doors in October of 2003 and transferred many of its responsibilities to EPCglobal, industry attention has been focused almost exclusively on the latter organization. In the build-up to GEN 2 ratification during 2004, then this year's subsequent excitement surrounding the anticipated wave of GEN 2 product, an important lasting vestige of the Auto-ID Center has slipped below the radar: Auto-ID Labs.

The decision to close the Auto-ID Center was really an effort in reorganization; what had been a sort of academic and research-oriented organization needed to have a commercial component that could effectively address the business issues that increasing RFID adoption demanded. (Most obvious among such issues, of course, was standards development.) That was EPCglobal's charge. But it was recognized that the more theoretical work of the Auto-ID Center was still a fundamental component of the overall RFID vision, and that such work should continue in an environment free from the burdens of immediate commercial interests. That became Auto-ID Labs.

RFID Update had the opportunity to speak with Elgar Fleisch, Co-Chair of Auto-ID Labs and Professor of Information and Technology Management at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and the University of St. Gallen. Professor Fleisch related to RFID Update the work Auto-ID Labs has been doing and what it has planned for the future.

The labs' research is categorized into three layers. The first and "lowest" layer overlaps largely with the focus currently seen throughout the industry: hardware issues, read rates, radio frequency research, and the like. The second layer is considered the network layer, which addresses most directly the grand "Internet of Things" vision around which the Auto-ID Center was originally founded. This layer deals with concepts like ONS, EPC Information Service (EPCIS), PML, and scalability of the network. According to Professor Fleisch, specifications for a full-fledged, global track-and-trace network are "just on the way." The specifications will be in place to support simple applications by year-end and by 2006 should support more complex applications that employ sophisticated security protections. The third and "highest" layer of research at Auto-ID Labs is that of new business processes. Research in this category aims to discover ways in which RFID can enrich and expand the power of businesses. Says Fleisch, "it is not as simple as RFID replacing the bar code." Creative ideas and ways of using the newfound data will realize a payback on RFID technology that cannot yet be quantified precisely because they have not yet been discovered.

Auto-ID Labs is a global organization, with seven centers scattered all over the world: The center in Korea was just opened in early April, and according to the announcement plans "to build up the laboratory with allies from both domestic RFID industry and Academia, and will actively promote the international collaboration with the overseas Auto-ID Labs. Through the collaboration, ICU expect to eliminate the technology gap between Korea and developed countries and produce high quality graduates to lead the RFID/Ubiquitous Sensor Network (USN) industry, in the future."

Each center has its own character, says Fleisch, with varying levels of government and industry involvement. Similarly, each lab's RFID research reflects its region's industrial character. In Japan and Korea, for example, there is a focus on RFID in mobile applications due in large part to Asia's advanced mobile application market.

Auto-ID Labs' first year was largely focused on supporting EPCglobal. But going forward, says Fleisch, research will be priority number one, and the organization will begin publishing a white paper series twice per year. Therefore, despite the Auto-ID Labs' relatively low profile since its inception a little over a year ago, the RFID industry can expect to begin hearing more from the research institution in the months and years ahead.

Visit Auto-ID Labs
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