Let's see some ID

Friday, 18 July 2003, 9:45 AM EST

There are lots of technical caveats about the capabilities of current RFID, but in the end there's little doubt they'll end up as near-invisible motes of silicon capable of reporting their identity via radio requests. They'll cost effectively nothing, they'll work forever and they'll be everywhere.

Lots of things are happening. In Japan, the government has allocated a frequency band for exclusive RFID use, and there are trials happening everywhere in the world. Tesco has one such going on in its Sandhurst store, where the DVD section has intelligent shelves that monitor each package. As soon as a particular disc is taken off the shelves, the main stocking computer knows about it -- as it does if discs are removed from the storeroom but don't end up on display. Wal-Mart, the huge American retailer that owns Asda, is investing millions in trials. The benefits to retailers, distributors and manufacturers are potentially huge: having every item in the supply chain machine-locatable will be like the invention of X-rays in medicine.

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