We will soon see radio frequency identification (RFID) playing an expanded role in the supply chain. One of the latest developments is the introduction of battery-assisted RFID tags that can be read up to 80 feet away. The distance reduces to about 15 feet if the tag is located on a human in the form of a badge.
When I read about this development, several applications came to mind. As far as the supply chain is concerned, we will see more RFID applications in the sales and marketing sectors, because of the obvious gains in proximity readings.
The battery-assisted cards are unique in that the battery is on only during the polling and read cycles. As soon as the reading is completed, the battery goes to sleep to conserve energy. With their increased reach and amplified signal, RFID cards can remain in a wallet or purse and be identified without owner or user intervention or knowledge. That is why I believe one of the strongest markets for these tags will be in store loyalty cards.
I have Office Depot, Best Buy, and Safeway cards that help me get discounts and earn rewards. I have to present the cards or give my phone number at the register to enjoy the benefits. When new cards come out with the battery-assisted RFID tags, the store will be able to identify me when I walk within 15 feet of a reader and track me inside or outside a building. With my card in my wallet, as soon as I enter a store with readers placed in the ceiling or in kiosks in the aisles, my shopping history will be recalled quickly, and a computer will know how to target me and help direct my buying decisions.
For instance, a reader somewhere near the register will send my name and last purchased items to a display facing the cashier, who will greet me with "Hello, Mr. Alexander. How are those new boots that you bought last Tuesday working out for you?" The cashier will then spin the display around for me to see. "By the way, these boots made by the same company are on sale today to our loyalty card members who have purchased from this company in the last 15 days. You will get 20 percent off the retail price if you buy within the 15-day period." Because I liked my earlier purchase, my buying decision will be influenced by a completely customized offer.
Another in-store application may be a kiosk coupon dispenser that offers a voice greeting initiated by my loyalty card. If I'm standing in front of the coffee section, a voice could ask me if I would like to buy a pound of the same blended coffee as my last purchase -- with a second pound at half price.
Point-of-sale displays will become much more effective with flat panel displays that customize themselves instantaneously while referencing the viewer's purchasing histories. RFID-enabled loyalty cards will become standard in the very near future. You will not be asked for proof of membership before checking out, and the discounts and rewards will be integrated automatically into the register totals.
I have given just a few examples of where we might see these new RFID applications. If you change the venue and include instant recognition, you can consider how many other semi-automated processes will become fully automated. Key hospital personnel could be located instantly. Students would not be able to wander the hallways and miss classes. Pets could be detected at property perimeters. When everything is tied into the Internet and time stamped, various overt and covert readers could be networked to track an individual's movement.
In the old setup, a person would have to walk very close to a reader to be sensed. With the extended range of battery-assisted tags and the ubiquitous deployment of low-cost readers, it would be possible to follow the human dots on a map in real-time. When these RFID or similar tags become standard issue for driver's licenses or a national ID card, start looking over your shoulder. Someone really will be following you.