Innovation Has Just Begun

By Mark Roberti

As RFID reaches maturity and adoption begins to spread, companies are finding innovative ways to use the technology.


I am often frustrated that the vast majority of companies have a woeful lack of vision. For every Airbus, Gerry Weber International, John Deere and Wal-Mart Stores, there are thousands of other manufacturers and retailers that have no clue how radio frequency identification can improve the way they do business. But my cynicism is constantly at odds with the great optimism I have for the ability of companies to innovate within a free-market economy.

Innovation takes many forms, of course. While walking the show floor at last month’s RFID Journal LIVE! 2011 conference, I was moved by the amount of energy and money that RFID technology providers have invested in creating innovative products (see New Solutions on Display at RFID Journal LIVE! 2011). I’m also excited by the constant revelations of new ways in which the technology is being employed.

Last week, we wrote about a new home-shopping theme park known as MainStreet America, that will be about the size of two football fields, and will include a dozen furnished homes with thousands of RFID tags attached to features throughout (see Home-Shopping Theme Park to Employ RFID). Visitors will be able to walk through the homes carrying RFID-enabled Google Android tablet PCs, and call up information about products located within those homes (lamps, sofas, rugs and so forth), as well as home features, such as windows, bathroom sinks and landscaping.

Will this catch on? I don’t know. If it does, you will undoubtedly see a lot more retailers tagging products and enabling customers to gather more information via links to each item’s unique serial number. If it doesn’t, you won’t. But that’s how innovation works: You try something and see if it works.

We also wrote about four Korean businesses that have employed an innovative RFID-enabled pick-to-light (PTL) system (see Korean Warehouses Deploy RFID-Enhanced Pick-to-Light System). Unlike conventional PTL systems, which direct employees to the correct product to select from a warehouse by illuminating it with an LED, the RFID system is automated. Workers don’t need to scan bar codes, and when mistakes are made, employees can be alerted immediately.

Two weeks ago, we wrote about Hach Lange, a German manufacturer of devices used by water-treatment facilities and municipalities to analyze water. The company provides chemicals that are placed into vials with water samples, and a spectrophotometer that analyzes the light passing through the liquid to determine its purity. The firm released a version of its new spectrophotometer that utilizes RFID to acquire data related to the chemicals that the company provides for water testing, enabling the instrument to automatically update its configuration for those chemicals (see Hach Lange Incorporates RFID in Water Testers).

And we wrote about the New York Stock Exchange‘s plans to employ an active real-time location system (RTLS) to track handheld computers. The system will ensure that traders do not pass from one trading floor to another with laptops or tablets, which could potentially lead to an unauthorized transaction (see New York Stock Exchange to Track Traders Via RFID).

What these applications have in common is that they have nothing to do with what RFID was touted for just a few years ago—namely, tracking cases and pallets in the supply chain. So while I continue to be frustrated by the lack of vision demonstrated by many overpaid CEOs, I am also sure we are about to see a wave of innovation in terms of the ways in which RFID is used, that will then lead to applications none of us have even dreamed of.

Ain’t free markets beautiful?

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor’s Note archive or RFID Connect.