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RFID: Beginnings of the sensor web?

RFID ? Radio Frequency Identification. These small tags are starting to drift everywhere. Powered by the radio field the reader sends out when it scans for a tag, these electronic tags broadcast a serial number identifying whatever they are strapped to.

When a radio frequency reader is activated nearby, it transmits a signal broadcast to the local area. Every tag within the transmission range picks up the broadcast, uses it to power its circuitry, and transmits a reply pulse stating its ID number. This can then be tracked on a database to work out what the tag is attached to.

RFID is primitive, but it is becoming ubiquitous. Tags are proliferating everywhere, as more and more companies realise they are superior to barcodes for tracking inventory ? the inventory sticks its hand up and cries ?I?m Here? when it is RFID tagged, barcodes do not.

Despite their primitive nature, the spread of RFID tags, and the continuing drop in manufacture costs, does give rise to speculation that these are the very beginnings of the sensor web. In order to use RFID effectively, the handheld readers have to be connected to a wireless network to access the databases they require. Tags are starting to appear with more than just ID signals. GPS allows them to state their position along with the ID signal.

The sensor web, that we will require for true Augmented Reality, needs to involve nets of sensors everywhere, monitoring all kinds of things, all tied together. The growing RFID movement does not even come close to these requirements, but, it is distributing the tags, and getting people used to the tags in people, on objects, in armbands, tickets, animals, everywhere, in a growing proliferation of acceptance of sensors in everything.

It may well be then, that in RFID technologies, we are seeing one often-overlooked angle of the growing trend towards global interconnectivity ? a blanket of sensors to cover the world ? a sensor web.

Now, we only have to wait for the tags to start talking to one another...
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