As we discussed in Chapter 4, "Standards Related to RFID," EPCglobal established and supports the Electronic Product Code (EPC) Network as the worldwide RFID standard for immediate, automatic, and accurate identification of any item in a supply chain. Similarly, ISO has been developing RFID standards in several industries for two decades. Other local standards bodies and standardization initiatives are developing RFID-related standards in specific industries (for example, livestock), around certain technologies (for example, Smart Active Labels), and even relevant only to certain countries (for example, China). Although the move toward RFID standards definitely constitutes a trend, its evolution is far from complete. The process of developing standards is slow and includes review of opinions from industry participants. Vigorous and sometimes contentious debate and even opposing standards initiatives are often part of the process.
Government Regulations and Mandates
Government regulations regarding what items to monitor and report upon will serve as protections for entire industries or large populations. For example, tracking and reporting data about cattle might help to quickly isolate an outbreak of Mad Cow disease, potentially saving the livestock industry of an entire country. Similarly, tracking the pedigree of dangerous medication can prevent fraud and counterfeiting, potentially saving the lives of numerous patients. Because society as a whole is the beneficiary of these types of applications, expect government agencies to provide subsidies that will offset the costs incurred by individual businesses. Although individual businesses will indeed benefit from these applications, such benefits are often not always immediate enough to warrant voluntary investment by them.
Privacy Related Legislation
RFID's weakest link (from a supply chain perspective) exists between the retailer and the consumer. There are two reasons for this. First, a consumer does not necessarily have, or may not know of, a compelling reason to link one's identity or purchasing preferences and habits to the rest of the supply chain. Second, consumers may have compelling reasons not to share this information. There are a number of ways that enterprises can foster trust and ways that consumers can benefit from connecting to the supply chain, as discussed in Chapter 10, "Security and Privacy." We can expect continued discussion and debate around RFID privacy from consumer advocacy groups, vendors, and lobbyists. Governments will be pressed to impose new privacy legislation to calm consumer concerns. Their challenge will be to balance public and business interests.
Consumer Application Innovations
Consumer enthusiasm is a critical factor for the ultimate ubiquity of many technologies. The driving force behind creating such enthusiasm is application innovation that captures the consumer's interest and imagination.
In Chapter 1, "A Better Way of Doing Things," we described a number of RFID-enabled applications that directly benefit consumers. They include access control, people monitoring, electronic toll collection, payment and loyalty, patient care, sports timing, and many others. RFID and its applications are all around us, and innovations frequently occur. In April of 2004, VIP patrons of the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona, Spain, received syringe-injected RFID tag implants. This enabled them to pay for their drinks automatically, without reaching for their wallets--they also enjoyed free access to the VIP area and became permanently "cool."
Elsewhere, a company called Radar Golf has introduced tagged golf balls that can be easily located using a lightweight handheld RFID reader around the golf course.
Expect vendors to continue to capture our imagination and get us hooked on RFID by introducing interesting, creative, and original applications.
Thirty years ago, it was hard to imagine that anyone could do their Christmas shopping with a few clicks on a computer keyboard. Today, millions of people Christmas shop from the comfort of their personal computers at home. We now take for granted new conveniences of the Internet; using our computers to communicate with our peers half way across the globe or instantly selling shares of an underperforming stock we read about moments before. However, back in the 1960s and 1970s, computers were only used by corporate giants or governments to perform complex mathematical tasks. The concept of networks and the possibility of connecting computers together to help make everyday life more convenient was only a vision of a few elite computer scientists. They recognized the inevitable as a function of economic feasibility.