Eerie possibilities

What if when you were born, a nanosize radio frequency ID tag was implanted under your skin to tell the airlines, the passport office, the hospital, and even the motor vehicle bureau who you are?

          What if when you were born, a nanosize RFID (Radio Frequency ID) tag was implanted under your skin to tell the airlines, the passport office, the hospital, and even the motor vehicle bureau who you are?

          Well, things haven't gone that far, but because I'm away from the office this week -- actually slaving away on this column while on vacation -- I thought if I'm miserable why not make my readers miserable as well. So here's some real stuff that is going on with RFID, and you can take it from there. I'm hoping the above scenario stirs your paranoid imagination.

          I spoke with Vasily Suvorov, CTO of Moscow-based Luxoft, the leading IT company in Russia, part of IBS Group, with about 2000 employees. Luxoft is doing work for the Saudi Arabian government and Boeing, among other organisations.

          Every January, Saudi Arabia gets millions of pilgrims from around the world coming to Mecca for the hajj. It creates a huge problem for logistics, crowd control, and security.

          To that end, Luxoft is developing the software that works with an RFID tag -- think of it as a smart UPC code -- that will be given to each visitor as part of their visa. Unlike the UPC code on a product in the supermarket, which describes the product, the tag being developed by Luxoft identifies each person in detail, including name, country of origin, where they are staying, and even what language they speak.

          Stationary RFID readers around Mecca will pick up the data on each passerby for the purpose of monitoring crowd flow and predicting where people are going and how situations might unfold. The data will flow into a command center, Suvorov says, and depending on the information, local team leaders in the field could delay an event or change the direction of the group they are leading.

          For pilgrims, there might be kiosks with readers. If visitors are lost, the system can read their tags and give them directions, in their native language, to where they are staying.

          Luxoft is also working with Boeing to add RFID tags to critical parts in commercial airlines. Why? All parts have limitations, and they need to be maintained. There appears to be a black market for stolen airplane parts, Suvorov says, some of which are even recovered from crash sites. What if one such part ends up on a commercial airplane but its location makes it extremely difficult to get at? A self-describing RFID tag could provide a maintenance person with information about the part. Never mind that it was stolen; the first thing the mechanic needs to know is if it still works.

          Finally, I spoke with folks at the labs at Accenture, and they told me about work being done with RFID tags in clothing and other consumer products. Someday, everyone's handheld or handset will have an RFID reader. You meet a friend and admire his or her jacket, and what do you know? All the details, including price, comes up on your device, and all you will need to do is push the Buy button.

          Schwartz is an editor at large in InfoWorld US’ news department. Send letters for publication in Computerworld NZ to Computerworld Letters.

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Tags Wireless World

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