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Beyond RFID's Core Benefits

The technology is now doing so much more than improving supply chain efficiency.
By Mark Roberti
Oct 14, 2013

I've always believed that radio frequency identification would deliver more than just efficient supply chains. From the day we began publishing RFID Journal in 2002, it was clear to me that consumers, nonprofits, government municipalities and other organizations would benefit from the technology's tremendous power. But I have to admit, I didn't imagine that RFID would facilitate garbage collection, enable bicycle rental programs or help the homeless (see Meet PAT, Siri for the Homeless).

Near Field Communication technology hadn't been developed back then, and "social media" didn't exist. So using RFID to brand products and services wasn't on my radar. Yet, consumer marketing is the topic of this issue's Vertical Focus (see The New 'It' Tool for Branding Products and Services). Hellmann's, Lexus and Vail Resorts are among the companies using RFID (and NFC in particular) to engage customers and create buzz.

And we weren't that "smart" in 2002. I didn't foresee the "smart city" movement that is gaining a foothold in Europe. As John Edwards reports in our cover story (see The Future Is Now for Smart Cities), government municipalities across the continent are using RFID and other cutting-edge technologies to deliver new and enhanced services to the people they serve. Generally speaking, the goal is to make city living easier and cities greener.

Santander, Spain, for example, has deployed a wide array of sensors (not all of them RFID) under roadbeds, mounted on street lamps and affixed to municipal buses to continuously monitor the city's vital signs. These devices track air quality, traffic and beach conditions, tell people when the next bus will arrive at a specific stop and manage streetlights and parks irrigation.

The European Commission is promoting smart-metering projects, to provide a more efficient way of supplying energy, keeping both utilities and customers informed about energy usage and allowing residents to save money. One application, being deployed in Helsinki, Finland's new Kalasatama area, will create a smart electricity grid that enables residents and businesses to coordinate energy use with the availability of local wind- and solar-generated power.

I've always been an art lover and tend to hit the Tate when in London or the Rijksmuseum when in Amsterdam. So I particularly like the NFC application recently introduced by Nice, France, to help visitors to its modern art museum learn more about the objects they're viewing. Nice, considered a smart-city pioneer, also deployed NFC tags on monuments around the city, to help tourists discover its treasures. In 2009, the city introduced an RFID-enabled self-service bike rental program. Now, Nice is working with Cisco on a technology-driven project to enhance services for residents called Connected Boulevard.

Clearly, it takes vision to plan and identify funding for smart-city initiatives. (There are opportunities for RFID providers to partner on smart-city projects.) But governments don't have to imagine the benefits—just visit a smart city and talk to the residents and local business owners. Meanwhile, I look forward to seeing all the RFID innovations still to come.

Photo: Tom Hurst | RIFID Journal

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