In the past two years, radio frequency identification tags-silicon chips that carry ID numbers that can be read by computerized radio scanners-have become cheap and tiny enough that such retail behemoths as Wal-Mart are implementing them to track cases of products from warehouses to stores. But makers of these tags aren’t keeping good track of each other, making different kinds of tags and readers that aren’t all compatible, slowing their widespread adoption.
The tags’ communication woes could soon end, however. This fall the Auto-ID Center, an international corporate and university consortium headquartered at MIT, will announce the first hardware and software standards for such tags and their readers. These standards should greatly facilitate the use of the tags by, for example, allowing one reader to be used with different tags. In turn, says David Brock, codirector of the Auto-ID Center, wider adoption of the tags should slash costs from spoilage, theft, and miscounts. “It will be a revolution in the supply chain,” he says. “You can see where your items are at any time.”
In preparation for the new standards, companies are gearing up to produce readers and tags-which range in size from postage stamps to postcards, and cost as little as 10 cents apiece. Earlier this year, Alien Technology in Morgan Hill, CA, announced that Gillette would buy 500 million tags. And this summer, Wal-Mart-the world’s largest retailer-announced it is requiring 100 suppliers to put tags on all pallets of merchandise by 2005. With stores like the Gap, Target, Home Depot, and U.K.-based Tesco and Marks and Spencer making trial runs, radio tags are ready to make tracks.
Players in Radio Frequency Identification
|Alien Technology |
(Morgan Hill, CA)
|Cheap, mass-produced tags; 500 million sold to Gillette|
|Fast, reliable tags and readers for high-volume tracking; used in supply chains for consumer goods|
|Royal Philips Electronics |
(Eindhoven, the Netherlands)
|Tags used at the European retailer Metro Group|
|Universal tag readers|
How AI is reinventing what computers are
Three key ways artificial intelligence is changing what it means to compute.
These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems
They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.
A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click
Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.
Surgeons have successfully tested a pig’s kidney in a human patient
The test, in a brain-dead patient, was very short but represents a milestone in the long quest to use animal organs in human transplants.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.