Our Future: The Real-Time Status of Things

By John Shoemaker

Soon we will be able to know not only every item's location, but also its temperature, motion, vibration, humidity and a host of other variables, opening up a world of opportunities for us all.

Having spent 30 years in the automatic identification and data collection (AIDC) industry, I find that my view of the future is less foggy. At least five "connected" trends seem obvious to me, but recognizing the implications of these trends is important to understanding the possibilities for all of us.

First, in the early years, technology companies focused on the speeds, feeds or ranges of radio frequency identification and wireless products. Trade shows were more about proving "our stuff is better than your stuff," and who had the best widgets—readers, tags, antenna and so forth.

Today's customers—those who spend money—are focused on solutions, not hardware. Therefore, the challenging question is, "How does any technology solve a problem?" Customers do not buy products; they buy a solution. To provide such a solution requires much different thinking in terms of researching a problem and configuring a solution with the notion that a single firm does not always have all of the required components. It will likely involve partners. Creating a partner network is critical unless a company is big enough to fund a vertical enterprise with direct sales, integration and support.

Second, everything seems to be moving to the cloud. AIDC is a perfect data-capture capability that feeds the cloud with ID information that can be turned into meaningful intelligence. The cloud connects everyone to the world of possibilities.

Third, in a world of clouds, the connectivity of the Internet of Things—a worldwide network that creates a living, breathing library—will be mind-altering. It will provide an incredible level of visibility and access into everything around us.

Next, AIDC technology will be combined with the Internet, supported by clouds and all interactive with mobility on a level never before available. All types of smart devices will enhance our ability to capture, store, manage and act while on the move, with details that drive ever more intelligent decisions. The continuing progression of mobile phones, tablets and other new wireless devices will spread quickly.

Finally, these decisions will be aided not only by identifying any items (assets, vehicles, people, etc.), but also by knowing their timely, if not real-time, status. Real-time location systems (RTLS) will be part of what I will term as the Real-Time Status of Things (RTST). We will be able to find a specific item and know its location and a host of variables—temperature, motion, vibration, humidity and security characteristics, to name a few—that reveal its exact status at any given moment.

Such RTST knowledge will offer a level of intelligence and interaction with every "thing" imaginable. It will open a world of opportunities for all of us.

John Shoemaker is the executive VP at Identec Solutions, a wireless-technology solutions provider addressing needs for people safety, productivity and efficiency within harsh environments.