Reports of RFID’s Demise Are Exaggerated

One sign of just how far RFID has come is that half the new technologies being written about are going to spell RFID's demise.
Published: October 11, 2006

By Mark Roberti

Read an article the other day about new molecular tags that are really tiny and will emit unique patterns of light (see Scientists announce molecule-based ID tags). The article said that with molecular computational identification (MCID), “molecules can be manipulated using a certain mix of chemicals and give off light as a result. Such light-based output makes the molecules the equivalent to RFID tags. The difference is that these tags are, of course, very small.”

The article goes on to predict that these tags could be an alternative to “the now controversial RFID tags that are making headlines.” The article didn’t say when these tags might become commercially available.

This is hardly the only case of someone claiming that a new innovation would spell the end of RFID. On Sept. 22, I got a press release that said: “The breakthrough recently announced by Intel Corporation and the University of California allowing lasers to be built cheaply on silicon chips makes possible inexpensive optical identification tags, which could render RFID tags and their related security issues obsolete.” This was based on the announcement made a couple of days earlier (see Intel, UCSB produce laser-silicon chip).

Proclamations about the premature death of RFID are a sign of how far the technology has come. Five years ago, when I first started covering RFID, no one knew what it was, so no one could say a particular technology would spell the end of RFID. It’s clear that so many people know what RFID is that developers of new technologies see it as something worth knocking off.

The other thing that’s positive is that these articles make it clear that people believe RFID will be widely adopted. If they didn’t believe that, they wouldn’t want to replace RFID in the pantheon of auto-ID technologies.

Could these innovations make RFID obsolete? I don’t think so. These technologies and others that rely on light-emitting tags or tags that use sonar or infrared have severe limitations that won’t ever be overcome—in particular, they rely on line of sight. You can’t embed them inside packaging, inside products or even inside labels and read them regardless of orientation to the reader. And any technology that can be embedded will use radio waves and a unique identifier, which means it, is a form of RFID.