The Start of Something Big

By Mark Roberti

The finalization of EPCglobal Network standards this year will allow companies to begin taking advantage of RFID data—which is what it’s all about.


When I first visited the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in June 2001, I was working for The Industry Standard, the now-defunct dot-com magazine. I was looking into a then-obscure technology called radio frequency identification, which was being used for asset tracking and access control. It had some potential to help companies improve the quality of data they were putting into their supply chain systems by automating the data capture process. When I left MIT at the end of the day, my head was buzzing—RFID’s potential was far greater than I’d ever imagined.

Kevin Ashton, then the executive director of the Auto-ID Center, spelled out a vision for the “Internet of Things.” RFID tags with unique Electronic Product Codes would be placed on individual products and linked to product data in Internet databases. Information about each item could be shared securely with supply chain partners around the globe. The concept of the Internet of Things has been derided by some over the past few years, but I saw the ability to share data about the location and status of products as a way for companies to transform the way they manufacture, transport and sell goods.

Today, we stand on the cusp of seeing that vision become a reality. As we show in our featured story this week, Leveraging the Internet of Things, the standards for sharing EPC data over what’s now called the EPCglobal Network are coming together. The retail/consumer packaged goods industry has agreed on a standardized format for sharing data, while Wal-Mart and Target have begun sharing EPC data about the location of products with 13 suppliers in a field trial (see Target, Wal-Mart Share EPC Data).

The MIT Auto-ID Lab, the successor to the Auto-ID Center, is building a software simulation to learn how the network should be designed so it works efficiently with millions of companies sharing data on billions of products (see Lab to Build EPC Network Simulation). And software companies are developing applications that take advantage of the ability to interpret EPC reads at different points in the supply chain to better manage many different business processes.

As a journalist who has covered RFID every day for nearly five years, this is an exhilarating time. We’re getting close to the point where companies can really begin to take advantage of better information about the location of products in the supply chain. Sure, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Software vendors need to create new applications that leverage the ability to share EPC data over the EPCglobal Network, and companies need to understand the business case for new RFID-enabled applications. Tags and interrogators need to improve, and costs need to come down. Still, when I look back at my first trip to MIT, I’m awed by just how far the technology has come in so short a time—and how close we are to making the original vision of the Internet of Things a reality.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below.