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In Tokyo's Shopping District, Auto-ID Tags Are the Latest Fad

Sunday marks the start of an experiment in ubiquitous computing, where RFID and other types of tags, read by cell phones and special handheld devices, will serve as virtual tour guides.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Participants will use the system in one of two ways. If visitors to the area are carrying Web-enabled cell phones equipped with a camera capable of reading and decoding 2-D bar codes called QR (or quick response) codes, they can gather information from the pilot's 2-D bar code labels, which are encoded with a ucode compliant with the QR format. These users will read the QR ucode, then use the phone's Web browser to call up a Web page linked to the ucode on the tag. Information printed on the tagged posters indicates the type of information they'll get from reading the tag—such as detailed directions or historical information linked to tourist sites—and in which languages that information will be presented. Cell phones capable of reading QR codes are widely available in Japan because such codes have become a common means of communication there. For instance, many companies encode contact information on business cards using the QR codes so new acquaintances can download the information into their cell-phone address books.

Alternatively, participants visiting the area on one of 24 designated testing days during the pilot program will be able to borrow a handheld reader called a Ubiquitous Communicator, provided by the YRP Ubiquitous Networking Labs. The Communicator can read all four tag form factors, and a built-in screen will display information linked to the tag IDs in the back-end database. This information will be available in four languages: Japanese, English, Chinese (Simplified/Traditional Chinese letter) and Korean. The devices will be available for free on a first-come, first-serve basis, but testers will be asked to complete a survey about their experience using the device.

The tags will provide information about retailers, sightseeing and route-finding to help visitors locate stores and tourist sites; emergency and evacuation information (encoded to tags located in the underground); and routes for people in wheelchairs or those with limited mobility to get around the area. Various types of tags are embedded in different locations, depending on a number of factors, such as the cost of the tag and the environment in which it is placed. For example, because the bar codes are the lowest cost, and because both QR-enabled cell phones and Ubiquitous Communicators can read them, they are most widely used for the many posters in the aboveground pedestrian areas. In underground locations, however, IR and active RFID tags are installed because they send data to the Ubiquitous Communicators automatically, without the user needing to hold the handheld device up to the tags or initiate reading them. This is important for the safety-related information that can be sent in the event of an emergency.

The Ginza pilot project is partially funded by Japan's Ubiquitous Computing Technology Corp., a joint venture between the Japanese government and industry, including Fujitsu, NEC, Hitachi and NTT East Corp. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport are also providing financial support.

While it has gathered a significant amount of media attention in the United States, the Ginza project is not the first such experiment deployed by the Ubiquitous ID Center. The center has initiated a number of other trials recently, including one using RFID tags to provide information to visitors at the Arakawa River, one of Tokyo's main waterways. The center has also deployed a system in Tokyo's Ueno zoological park, where visitors use the Ubiquitous Communicators to learn about animals at the zoo.


Eugene Chang 2007-03-19 03:26:04 AM
Meet Prof Ken Sakamura in person at RFID World Asia 2007 thi This is an interesting project combining Wi Fi, Bluetooth, Internet and RFID technologies in a lifestyle application for the general public in with multi-lingual support for tourists. It's a bold effort to push the envelope and test knowledge from lab to a real life scenario outside of normal supply chain and manufacturing environments. Worth a look at. The trial ends in March. If you're serious about RFID and would like to find out about the results and meet the man heading the project, Professor Ken Sakamura from Tokyo University will be presenting this case (for the first time outside Japan) as a distinguished speaker at the RFID World Asia 2007 executive conference. RFID World Asia 2007 is the region's largest gathering of RFID practitioners and related professionals coming together to promote responsible RFID adoption and development with an emphasis on achieving quick ROI and sustainable business value. This premier conference and expo will be held in Singapore - April 25 - 27. To find out more visit: http://www.terrapinn.com/2007/rfidwa_SG/

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