RFID heading to mobile phones

Users also view aids for diabetics, faster ways to pay for gas at the pump

Presenters at RFID World in Boston Wednesday focused on using second-generation active and passive radio frequency identification tags to provide advanced security and authentication, as well as ways to broaden the reach of the technology.

Among the buzz from attendees was how the average wireless device could soon become an RFID reader, or perhaps a related radio-capable device for Near Field Communication, a short-distance radio technology to give a mobile user easy access to all kinds of data.

One attendee, Russ Lamer, said he was just starting early investigation into ways that fleet truck drivers could equip their standard cell phones to act as a kind of "speed pass" to quickly pay for fuel at a truck stop, similar to the Speedpass used at Mobil gas stations. Lamer, manager of emerging technologies at Wright Express in South Portland, Maine, said drivers might also have fuel discount coupons delivered wirelessly to their phones that could be used during fuel purchases.

With some of the mobile payment technologies he is investigating, Lamer said the modern trucker may eventually be able to pay by authorizing a credit card via the cell phone. "It makes the most sense" for the cell phone to work as the RFID reader, Lamer said, adding that he is interested in finding which chips could be used to provide the functions and at what cost.

Other attendees said they were dazzled by an MIT presentation last night that showed emerging technologies similar to RFID that would allow someone with diabetes to read his blood sugar level easily several times a day with a cell phone receiving data from a patch on his arm.

Steven Georgevitch, senior manager of supply chain technology at The Boeing Co.'s Integrated Defense Systems, said in an address that all the emerging wireless technologies are exciting, but warned IT managers to plan ways to prevent radio frequency (RF) interference, especially in large companies with many wireless applications.

At Boeing, there are 150,000 employees in 70 countries and a variety of wireless technologies are used, including active and passive RFID, GPS, and two variations of wireless location services. Badges worn by employees also use proximity radio technology, in which an employee is identified by passing close to an RFID reader at entrances to buildings, Georgevitch said.

With so much variety in unlicensed spectrum, Boeing has tried to manage possible RF interference with an internal organization called the Frequency Management Organization. The group studies a proposed wireless use from an employee group, conducts technical tests on it, and then approves or rejects the project, Georgevitch said. Boeing's chief technology officer also has veto rights over which projects can move forward.

"RF should be treated as a scarce resource," Georgevitch advised IT managers in other organizations. "Everybody wans to use RF or plug into Bluetooth or 802.11. Collisions are inevitable."

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