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MIT Media Lab Launches Virtual RFID-Powered Blackboard

To offer visitors a means by which to learn about the 130 or so projects being pursued at the Media Lab at any given time, RFID-enabled Samsung plasma touch-screen displays were installed throughout the building.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
But unlike social networks such as Facebook, or even physical blackboards, the Media Lab's system, at present, only facilitates one-way information exchange. In other words, visitors can collect information from the monitors, but not input data, such as questions or images. However, Lippman says, the lab does plan to build out the system's capabilities in the future, to include a means by which two-way communication—either through the monitors, or via Web-based networks, such as Twitter—will be feasible. Longer-term plans for the system include adding additional antennas to provide more granular location data—say, for instance, adding antennas to doorways to track which specific labs the visitors enter. Moreover, Lippman says, plans are currently in the works to incorporate video conferencing into the system.

The system debuted on May 25, during the Diagonal Thinking symposium that the Media Lab held to celebrate its move into the new building. For now, only staff members and researchers at the lab carry RFID-enabled identification badges (these are semi-passive EPC Gen 2 tags, manufactured by PowerID, that resemble credit cards because they are encased in a rugged plastic housing). Within weeks, Lippman says, once the kiosk used to initiate user profiles has been fully tested and vetted, the Media Lab will begin issuing paper badges to visitors that contain EPC Gen 2 inlays converted by William Frick & Co..

"This makes me think of bigger visual social networks," Maguire says. "What if you did this in an airport, where I could wave my boarding pass [by a reader] and the system knows I like Odwalla drinks and tells me where I can get one?"

RFID has been used in applications similar to the Media Lab's deployment for a number of years. San Jose's The Tech Museum, for example, issues tags to visitors for use in creating personal Web sites at which, after their visit, they can view information regarding the exhibits with which they interacted (see RFID Works Like a Charm at The Tech).

ThingMagic publicized its contribution to the Media Lab's smart-display system as part of its 100 Uses of RFID blog. In part to celebrate its 10th anniversary, as well as spread awareness of the many ways in which RFID is being used, the company began highlighting a different RFID application on its Web site every business day on July 19, and will continue to do so until Dec. 31.

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