1968 was a big year for me. I joined the Air Force because I didn't have a clue about what I wanted to do with my life. I tested high in the aptitude examinations and was given a choice of anything I wanted to do. Still not having a clue, I chose a title that had a triangle, a circle, and a square beside the job description because the combination of those three geometric shapes meant I needed a Top Secret clearance.
I thought I was going to be some kind of secret agent. However, for the next three years, I was in school learning all about cryptographic systems. I had to learn basic electronics and digital logic. I was charged with memorizing page after page of schematics and block diagrams. In this way, I was introduced to the wonderful world of cryptography and mini computers and heard the term "CPU" for the first time in my life.
This past April at RFID Journal Live! 2012, Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) introduced its "processor secured storage" technology using an RFID chip with dedicated memory hardwired into its microprocessors. The RFID memory can be programmed via an inter-integrated circuit (I2C) bus and read out using a handheld scanner. This is not only an example of convergence of major technologies, but the benefits of this integration will help track the processors through the supply chain and verify their authenticity to the final end user.
This anti-counterfeiting technology comes at a most critical time as high-end chips, including microcontrollers and microprocessors, are favorite targets for counterfeiters. Intel has already given the reference designs for the new platform to the hardware vendors that are making Windows 8 tablet computers, which are expected to hit the market later this year.
An additional benefit of this new technology is that manufacturers can switch off the device during transit and then enable it at the point of sale without opening the box, which promises to reduce theft. In addition, retailers, IT departments, and others can send commands to the device in order to customize it to a user's particular needs. This non-intrusive capability to switch on and off the RFID chip means that contents of the box and, more importantly, the quantity of chips themselves inside the opaque ESD and humidity sealed packaging can be verified.
Numerous times, I have received back from assembly houses sealed humidity packages with chip counts marked on the return labels. I have had to take the word of the assembly house that its count was accurate. I did not want to open the sealed packages to verify the count, because that would compromise the purpose of the package. I have also been on the victim's end of a shortage count because the label count did not match the count of the contents. Intel's technology will remedy this problem instantly; it will also become easier to inventory the chips in the stock bins.
Having an active RFID embedded in very expensive processors and controllers may be the next great breakthrough in inventory management. RFID detection antennas are becoming very sophisticated such that hundreds of transmitters can be read simultaneously, and with the cost of such equipment decreasing rapidly, we may see entire stockrooms at distributors, OEMs, and retailers being outfitted with this technology in the near future.
In October, I will be attending the RFID in High Tech 2012 show and hope to post an article or two on the newest applications entering the electronics supply chain. 1968 was a million years ago on the electronics development timeline; one memory core capable of storing one bit of information was about the size of an Altoid breath mint. Now that same package size houses an entire microcontroller with RFID and dedicated memory.
My 1968 CPU was bigger than a washing machine; now it is a hundred times smaller than a button on one of my old Air Force uniforms. With battery technology advancing as fast as it is, I don't believe it will be very long before we have integrated circuits that will poll themselves at regular intervals and report their presence and location to a cloud-based database that also updates itself in real time. The RFID technology is taking us in the direction of greater security and more accurate inventory tracking and counts. When it comes to great technologies, RFID really counts!