Monday, June 19, 2006

RFID - Capturing Business Imagination in India

Don't you hear a lot about RFID these days? Its quite a buzz term in tech circles and has also caught the fancy of the media. Before we continue discussing how RFID could shape things in India as an IT application, let's quickly pour over what the heck RFID is all about

RFID - The technology
Radio Frequency Identification or RFID for short, is a technology that was first invented by Harry Stockman way back in 1948. However a viable RFID technology based service was implementable only recently thanks to falling technology related costs. Basically a tracking technology, Radio Frequency Identification uses small tags that ride piggyback on items that need tracking. Tags may be of two types:
  1. Active Tags: These are battery powered tags that keep relaying information in radio frequency at fixed intervals. These are picked up by a RFID reader and the information is stored. THese tags are generally bulky as they need to carry their own battery source.
  2. Passive Tags: These tags lack their own power source. Whenever a reader sends out electromagnetic waves in the vicinity, the tags use the power of the electromagnetic field and relay back information.
Is RFID technology not the same as Barcode scanning?
Yes it is, but RFID has 2 distinct advantages.
  1. The item to be scanned using RFID need not be in Line of Sight
  2. Hundreds of tags can be simultaneously read at the same moment.
Applications
Applications in business for this technology are overflowing. I mention just a few below and am sure your mind would have another 10 that could be potential candidates for RFID.
  • You push your trolley full of your weekly purchases in the neighbouring FoodWorld or Spencers and surprise, even as you pass through the counter, the entire list of items have been scanned and the total bill is ready for you to pay. No more tiring wait for each item to be removed from your trolley and scanned via barcode reader.
  • Hate queuing up outside the cricket ground or the music concert show with the ticket in your hand waiting to be verified by the ticket collector? With RFID several hundred people can at once be cleared by scanning sticker tickets pasted on to them.
  • Feel like zooming past toll collection centers without waiting. RFID again to the rescue. You just drive past and the RFID reader scans the tag attached to your car, gets the credit card info and debits the amount due each time you pass.
  • Transporting perishable food items in cold storage containers and worried about temperature fluctuations. Businesses can attach special active RFID tags that relay container temperatures back to the company offices and errant containers can be quickly dealt with.
  • Another outbreak of bird flu and you are worried that your bird stock might be culled following mass culling orders by the government. Government can ease its task by mandating asking owners to tag all chickens with information on the farm of their origin. Thus a diseased chicken can be traced back to specific farm and culling orders can be restricted to that area.
The immediate candidates for RFID technology in India would be shopping malls, supply chain companies, pharmaceuticals, transportation businesses and governmental organizations.

RFID Applications in vogue in India
  • Indian Railways plans to use RFID to track wagons and consignments to enable tracking at each station or crossover.
  • Pantaloon has kicked off a pilot project at its Tarapur warehouse where it has tagged about a 1000 different categories of items. Wipro Infotech is the vendor.
  • Ashok Leyland has HP developing RFID based applications in the engine production house to track engine information.
  • Madura garments uses RFID to track all garments going to its central warehouse to enable easy stock keeping.
Rough patches in embracing RFID
  • Cost has been a major factor vis-a-vis the barcode scanners. High cost tags mean that Indian businesses prefer using tags only on reusable packaging materials. To be widely used, RFID tags need to get cheap enough for a onetime use and throw and still be able to justify ROI on RFID.
  • Lack of standards in the industry over RFID tagging formats
  • Different Reader frequencies in the in the US (900-928 MHz) and Europe and India(865-867 MHz) make RFID tagging useless for consignments that traverse continents.
Inspite of all the current drawbacks, RFID's advantages clearly have the industry interest aroused and it should be a matter of time before India should have RFID applications by the dozen. Life should be a tad easier at shopping centers and film theaters at the least.




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1 comment:

keyur said...

Hello sir,

I am from Gujarat, Currently I am in computer Assembling but I m very much interested in RFID solutions but dont have any proper information about it.

Can you please tell me what are the scope for RFID in India, and what are the business oppertunity for a small firms like Us?

Thanks.
Keyur
keyur.kothari@gmail.com

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