2006-06-26

RFID @ home

RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tags are becoming very popular. For example, in Europe pets have ID chips installed under the skin, so if they get lost, their owners can be traced. Public transport cards also use this technology, where you need only to pass a card close to the entrance, and your trip fare gets deducted automatically. They can also be included for tracking of shippings or luggage.
Still, in recent years RFID tags have become cheaper and cheaper, so now many supermarkets plan to use them instead of barcodes. Like this, the shoppers would only approach to the cashier, and all items would be identified with radio signals. No more queues! Like with barcodes, the shops can use RFID tags to track inventories, e.g. to know how much stock they have, and it can be easily known if more products should be ordered, or put on sale because they are about to expire.
But I was thinking the other day that this technology could have even more uses at homes. If there was a RFID detector in a kitchen or storage room, it could list the stock of the house. Like this, a friendly interface could be developed so that people would program how much stock of each products they want to have, and as they are consummed, the system can warn the users what products are lacking. Just press a button, and a shopping list is printed. Even better, just press a button, and send the shopping list to the supermarket for pickup or delivery. This would save loads of time for people who don't like to waste it in supermarkets... Of course, it might have disadvantages, e.g. you wouldn't know about the new products, offers, and so on... but I guess many people aren't interested in that...
A couple of points to take into account:

  • RFID tags should be destroyed or deactivated when they are thrown into the garbage. Otherwise the system may think that there is still milk, when the empty milk carton is lying in the trashbin for a week. Of course, this wouldn't be a problem if the trashbin is "far" from the detector...
  • It should be possible to make your own RFID tags. Like this, we could keep also track of preserves, frozen food, and everything that doesn't come already with a tag.

RFIDs have also been used as implants in humans, but they are far from popular...
I wouldn't mind to be able to open doors, start cars, pay money, travel abroad, etc, just by swinging my wrist (no more forgotten/lost keys/wallet/credit cards/tickets/passport/license). But still there is the problem of identity theft... It is not clear how could a chip of those could be unique, i.e. so that a duplicate cannot be forged. Some people complain that you could get kidnapped for your chip, but the same happens for your cards/money/signature/retina/etc... so I guess that's not an excuse. Other people might complain because governments could keep a track of people by following the activities of their RFID, reducing "freedom"... Big Brother's watching you, patriot act, etc... but that happens anyway with bank transactions, mobile & GPS activity, etc... so I don't see an excuse in there either... well, time will decide...

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