Really Tiny Chip

October 31, 2007 at 2:06 pm | Posted in News, RFID | Leave a comment

Teeny RFID Chip

No, it’s not a tick or a freckle. It’s the smallest RFID chip on record. It’s made by Hitachi, and measures 0.15 x 0.15 millimeters in size and 7.5 micrometers thick.  It can store enough data for a 38-digit number. It’s pretty cool; hopefully it doesn’t blow away in a stiff breeze, though. I’m betting Hitachi spent a bit of money on this one.


Keepin’ Politicians Honest with RFID

October 25, 2007 at 1:29 pm | Posted in Entertaining, RFID | Leave a comment

I loved the story that was all over the Internet today about Mexican politician Roberto Madrazo. He tried to cheat in a marathon, and the RFID system caught him at it. Rather than installing readers only at the start and finish lines, the Berlin Marathon organizers placed read zones at every 5 km mark.He would have won his age division with his remarkably fast time, but was disqualified instead. A few days later he admitted he left the course at the 25 km mark to take the most direct route to the finish line.

I’m not a marathon runner, but doesn’t cutting down the distance sort of defeat the purpose of being a marathon runner?

The History of RFID

October 17, 2007 at 2:34 pm | Posted in RFID | Leave a comment

I know it seems newfangled, but RFID technology is really quite old. The first use of RFID according to most sources was in World War II. Some credit the invention to the German Luftwaffe, who used actual plane maneuvers to change the way radio waves were transmitted in order to identify friend or foe. The British, however, refined the idea by building an active transmitter about the size of a suitcase and bolting it to the plane. They sent signals from ground towers to activate the transmitters, and could therefore identify friendly planes.

Continue Reading The History of RFID…

Related Science

October 16, 2007 at 9:04 am | Posted in News, Technical | Leave a comment

You might not realize it, but you’re probably familiar with lots of ways we use Radio Frequency waves to collect data. RADAR, for example, is actually an acronym for RAdio Detection And Ranging.

I mention this because we’re one step closer to  ‘Scan the vessel for life signs, Mr. Spock.’ Kai Sensors has made a product called the “LifeReader” which can detect heartbeats and respiration using doppler radar.  Of course this has lots of very cool applications, because it can detect normal and abnormal cardiac activity. If your heart is screwing up, you want to know about it right away, right? This is particularly true in case of heart attack, when time equals muscle.

Continue Reading Related Science…

Oo, la la, mon cheres…

October 16, 2007 at 8:27 am | Posted in News, RFID | Leave a comment

The French government has opened an RFID center!  Europe is pretty far ahead of the US in terms of RFID adoption among large enterprises; but France’s new RFID center is intenteded to help small and mid-sized businesses integrate the technology into their systems. Read more!

A Public Health Use Case

October 11, 2007 at 7:01 am | Posted in News, RFID | Leave a comment

DCC spent a large part of September speaking with public health workers about disaster preparedness, and ways that RFID could be used to improve health systems’ capacity and responsiveness. There is a very cool article on CNet’s News about ways RFID can be useful to the UN’s relief efforts. UN Avian Flu Coordinator David Nabarro wants to track disaster supplies and monitor their condition. He also wants to track workers at disaster sites. Mr. Nabarro needs to call Dynamic.

Funky and far-fetched RFID use cases

October 3, 2007 at 11:41 am | Posted in Entertaining, RFID | Leave a comment

The following are some of my favorite stretches of the imagination. They strain credibility… but they are real! People are really using RFID in these ways.

1. Preventing toilet leaks and overflows. AquaOne made me laugh with their Fish Tank idea, but are they really using RFID to prevent floods?  Yep. The AquaOne H2ORB doesn’t use radio frequency identification to identify or track objects, but it does use RF transmissions between various sensors to make a ‘smart’ toilet that shuts itself down before it can overflow, and reports leaks. Why is it RFID? They aren’t really identifying anything, true, but they are using RFID tags in there to allow devices to communicate with each other wirelessly and cheaply.

2. Getting Into Nightclubs. Barcelona’s Baja Beach Club is actually implanting customers with RFID tags under their skin.  The tags allow access to the club, and also serve as a debit card! Since many of Baja Beach Club’s customers wear only bathing suits, this eliminates the awkwardness of carrying their wallets in their shoes. This is 100% true. In Europe RFID adoption is far ahead of us here in the US.

3. Timing Athletic Events. RFID transponders are being used as timing systems in major sporting events all over the world, including the Boston Marathon. The price of RFID has dropped enough that even smaller, local 5k’s are  now on board. I know this to be a true RFID use case from personal experience. I ran in East Lansing’s “Race for the Place” this June, and wore an RFID tag on my shoelace. An RFID antennae in a mat clocked the exact time I began the race, and one at the finish line reported my precise exit from the course. I could see how this could be very  handy in the event of a close finish. Maybe racehorses’ hooves could be next? RFID-enabled horseshoes?

3. Preventing counterfeit Viagra and wheels of cheese. See, cheesemakers in Italy were having trouble with other cheesemakers taking shortcuts and producing inferior counterfeit cheese. While the idea of black market cheese may sound ridiculous to us, consider this: just one wheel of the real aged parmesan cheese can be worth several hundred dollars. It’s amazing what people will do to make a dishonest dollar. Confronting the problem head-on,  a cooperative of cheesemakers in northern Italy successfully introduced RFID chips into their operation, which produces and handles several hundred thousand wheels of parmesan each year. The RFID device is inserted just under the end-wrap of the cheese wheel, and stays there through repeated aging cycles in climate-controlled warehouses for six to 36 months, and through the multi-step grading process and distribution. This generates a data trail which can be used to authenticate the cheese. Pfizer is doing the same thing with the oft-ripped-off Viagra.

4. I can’t golf. Can RFID help me? Yes. Well, sort of. RFID can  help you find your ball, if it has an RFID tag, and if it hasn’t gone into a water hazard. (Water reduces RF signals and renders them unpredictable.) These golf balls really do exist; they have RFID tags inside, and the golfer carries a reader along with the clubs in the golf bag. This probably won’t make my golf swing any better, but I suppose it could save me a lot of time looking for my balls in the rough.

5. RFID Gambling. You can absolutely put RFID tags in casino chips. This allows the casino to track unique betting habits of each player. The chips not only keep track of high rollers and their spending patterns, they make it even harder for thieves to counterfeit chips or steal them from other players. All of this technology is used, of course, to stack more odds in the house’s favor.

6. Can RFID track my bees please? Not the individual bees, but their hives, sure! While I don’t particularly like bees, they are important, and a shortage of hives in the US has taken its toll on industries that depend on bees’ pollination. Almond growers, for instance, need the bees to pollinate their almond flowers. What this results in is the theft of bee hives, something that could cost beekeepers their very livelihood. Each bee hive is worth hundreds of dollars, which is why their owners are now tracking them with RFID tags.

RFID-Enabled Library

October 2, 2007 at 2:51 pm | Posted in News, RFID | Leave a comment

I love hearing about libraries coming into modern times. I adore books, and wouldn’t want to see an era of paper-free  knowledge.

So, it warms my heart to see the RFID implementation at the San Bernardino County Public Library.  They are using it in multiple ways, which is great, because they will see much better ROI  by using RFID throughout the organization. Here at Dynamic we worry a lot about our DoD contractor clients, who might only be using RFID when they are required to slap a tag on an item before shipping. They could get so much more out of it if they were to use it internally as well!

Back to San B Library. Thinking as most libraries must, of course, they are using the tags for loss prevention purposes. They’ve tagged all their DVD cases, which should help cut down on theft of high-risk items. (Alas, today’s youth are less interested in stealing a nice Nancy Drew novel than stealing the movie.) 

The part I think is great, however, is that they are using RFID to try to improve customer service. They’ve created a self-checkout system so patrons don’t have to wait for a librarian. This will also liberate librarians from the circulation desk, giving them more time for the actual ordering and maintenance of books, event planning, readings, research work, and more.

Even more cool: at the self-service station you can remove the security device from the DVD case on your own. This makes me grin, since my own tiny hometown library’s security devices often cover the movie description on the back of the case, and I am forever having to have our librarian remove the device so I can find out what the movie is about.

RFID, Revelations, and Big Brother

September 27, 2007 at 8:03 am | Posted in RFID | Leave a comment
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Last night at the library I found a book entitled The Spychips Threat: Why Christians Should Resist RFID and Electronic Surveillance. In this book, the authors, Albrecht and McIntyre, express their concern that RFID technology, when used inside a human being, could be the mark of the beast referenced in Revelations 13:16-18.

I just don’t think this is what RFID is all about. Even pretending that the technology is in place for such a thing (which it isn’t),  it isn’t possible or even desirable to tag every citizen and require tags to participate in the economy. Imagine the sheer logistics of placing an RFID tag under the skin on both the  hand and forehead of every citizen of the US. Even crazier, think of trying to tag every citizen of China?  The cost  would  be astounding, and the logistics of such an operation would be mind-blowing. Furthermore, if there were a tag in every person, and a reader at every POS, the amount of data such a tagging scheme would generate would be so mind-bogglingly huge that I don’t see any way it could be collected, stored, backed up, or made useful.

The idea that humans would allow an RFID-only economy is also pretty silly. How long have magnetic strip bank identifiers been around, and how many billions of people in the world still don’t have one? How many don’t have a checking account? The trend, it seems to me, has been for merchants to want to accept as many forms of payment as humanly possible, so they can attract the largest clientele. It’s good business to accept multiple forms of payment. I don’t think it’s likely that any businessperson is going to be the first to stop accepting cash at the point of sale unless the customer has a rice-sized transmitter in his forehead. I’m not out to knock Revelations; but I don’t think RFID is a fit for the prophecy.  

Then I saw that McIntyre and Albrecht are not merely concerned with the religious problem they feel RFID represents. They have another book, a secular version, which is all about how Big Brother wants to track our every move with an RFID ‘chip’.  The government, or our favorite corporate tyrant, could use this technology to track our every movement and purchase, and to somehow use that information to subjugate us to their will. 

This is also unreasonable. We live in a (mostly) rational society, driven by the demands of the market. Most governments are elected ones. No majority is going to agree to such a thing, and if human implants or tracking are found undesirable, the market will not support the development of the technology.

For technical reasons, I also feel Big Brother is just plain out of luck. An RFID signal from a tag in the skin of a human being would not travel very far. In order to read such a signal, an RFID reader would  have to be placed very close to the skin. You’d know if your RFID tag was being read, because you would see the reader. Don’t want your tag to be read? Don’t put it near a reader.  Want to block a reader? Put a piece of metal in front of it, or hold a can of Diet Coke over your tag. The liquid and metal combination will wreck your tag’s signal.

Given how easy it is to block the signal from a tag, even once it is in your skin, RF identification from a human implant would require cooperation with the technology, just like handing someone your social security card. It’s a choice you can make, or not.

It’s also a myth that RFID can be used to track your location. While it is true that if you came within an inch or two of a reader, your tag could be read, and your position recorded at that reader, once you are a couple feet away, you are no longer being tracked until you approach another reader. Putting RFID readers every few feet on every sidewalk on every street in the city would be prohibitively expensive. Even if there were a reader on every block, given all the random ways you could move around, the things you could be carrying or wearing, or that you could be inside a metal car, there’s no way Big Brother could guarantee a good read of your tag. You’d need one of those James Bond GPS thingies for that. 

If anything, the cool parts of  having an RFID implant would be for non-tracking uses. I’d love to go through life without worrying about losing my keys or bank cards. It would be great to have my front door pop open for me with a brush of my  hand when my arms are full of groceries. I’d like to quit having to carry forms of identification that can be stolen & leave me open for identity theft. I’d like to quit remembering PINs and passwords. That would be nice. Would it, however, be worth a whole lot of money and a voluntary experience with a huge hypodermic needle? Hmm. I think I would rather have mine on a key chain, ring, or necklace.

For all the AV Club geeks…

September 20, 2007 at 7:49 am | Posted in Technical | Leave a comment

This is pretty amazing stuff. A photographer posted behind the scene photos from Cirque Du Soleil’s “Ka” on CNet yesterday. IT folks can admire the very nice wiring job in their communications room. AV geeks: check out those projectors! Wow. 

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