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Futuristic RFID Trial in Tokyo Shopping District

RFID technology will figure prominently into one of the most ambitious "city of the future" projects to date. In Tokyo's famed Ginza shopping district, 10,000 RFID tags and similar wireless beacons will be embedded in public fixtures like walls and street lamps, according to Computerworld.
Jan 05, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

January 5, 2007—RFID technology will figure prominently into one of the most ambitious city-of-the-future projects to date. In Tokyo's famed Ginza shopping district, 10,000 RFID tags and similar wireless beacons will be embedded in public fixtures like walls and street lamps, according to Computerworld. Passers-by, equipped with prototype reader devices, will be able to obtain location-specific information as they pass each beacon. Examples include directions to the closest public transportation terminal, current promotions at a retailer in the neighborhood, or the menu of a nearby restaurant. The information will be available in Japanese, English, Chinese, and Korean.

The project will run as a trial beginning on January 21 and running through March. It is an initiative by the Tokyo Ubiquitous Network Project, a joint venture between the Japanese government and electronic manufacturing heavyweights Fujitsu, NEC, Hitachi, and NTT East. Ken Sakamura, a professor at the University of Tokyo, leads the project.

The information is presented on 3.5-inch display panels. In addition to RFID, wireless LAN and Bluetooth technology also comprise the total system.

The Asian region generally leads its North American and European counterparts in ubiquitous computing. Projects like this one demonstrate that in many respects Japan and Korea (which also has a government-supported ubiquitous computing initiative) are world leaders in the realization of the "Internet of Things" in which physical objects are made smart with RFID, sensors, and other networking. Ironically, even though the Internet of Things phrase was coined at the Auto ID Center in the US, a manifestation of the concept like the one in Ginza might well be rejected by the North American and European public, who are generally seen as more sensitive to the protection of personal privacy and anonymity than the Asian public. On the other hand, Americans, at least, are also known to be willing to trade personal data for convenience, so location-based ubiquitous computing like that in Ginza could ultimately gain traction in the US.

One area to watch will be near field computing, or NFC, the RFID-based technology that allows contactless purchases and information retrieval with the mere wave of a cell phone. As more handsets come equipped with NFC capabilities in the next couple years, it will be interesting to see how different regions of the world balance public privacy sentiment with economic opportunity.
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