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RFID Needs to Be Part of the Building

Radio frequency identification has been advancing in leaps and bounds for the past few years, except when it comes to becoming part of a company's physical infrastructure.
By Mark Roberti
Oct 01, 2018

Throughout the past five or six years, RFID solution providers have tremendously improved their tags, readers and software. We used to hear about problems reading tags, but that is almost never an issue anymore. We used to hear about the challenges of tagging certain products, such as drill pipes, but now there are tags that work on almost any object.

We've also seen some amazing deployments. Organizations as diverse as Lululemon, BAE Systems, and Florida Fire and Rescue are using RFID to improve their operations, and we're seeing the technology being adopted around the world (see RFID Brings Lululemon's Inventory Accuracy to 98 Percent,Equipment Value Stream Management and RFID at BAE Systems and Florida Fire and Rescue Supplier Extends Visibility via RFID).

However, one area in which there has been very little progress is in RFID becoming part of an organization's infrastructure. Only on rare occasions is the technology deployed as part of a building's physical infrastructure—and that's a shame. RFID should become part of a building, just like running water, lights and heat. This would make it less costly to deploy (retrofitting involves running wires, electricity cables and sometimes conduits), less visible to those using the building, and less likely to be damaged as things move around and more.

One of the big benefits of hosting next year's RFID Journal LIVE! Retail event with RetailX is that retail store designers and architects will gain exposure to RFID, in many cases for the first time. This means they will begin to see what the technology is capable of doing, and will start to think about how to incorporate it into buildings, fixtures and displays.

Some companies looking at and experimenting with unmanned stores are considering RFID. Amazon has used cameras and weight sensors at its Amazon Go store (see Amazon Aims to Revolutionize Brick-and-Mortar Shopping), while at least one company in Asia is using RFID as well. If that project is successful, it could lead to many more unmanned stores and possibly unmanned areas of conventional stores.

RFID will eventually be built into factories, warehouses, hospitals and other facilities. We need to start educating architects now. If anyone has any suggestions on how to do this, I'm all ears.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal.

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Jeffrey Dungen 2018-10-06 08:41:06 AM
Mark, we've always seen lighting, the ubiquitous in-building infrastructure, as the gateway to complete RFID coverage of a building. The commercial lighting leaders are at least building in BLE transceivers in their "connected" luminaires. If passive UHF RFID can somehow find a way to piggyback on lighting, educating architects could be as simple as reminding them to amply illuminate every corner of the building. The novel infrastructure we designed at reelyActive back in 2012 was actually intended to answer your question and facilitate building-wide coverage (for active RFID & BLE). By daisy-chaining transceivers using standard network cables, it becomes analogous to "illuminating a building by connecting Christmas lights in series." Architects have been able to grasp this, and it has been easy to include above false ceilings in new constructions. Nonetheless, long-term, installing RFID will surely need to become as easy as screwing in a lightbulb. Quite literally!

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