RFID and the Internet of Things

What if your phone was your RFID reader and transmitter?

Image source: Wikipedia

A recent article on an Internet of Things framework described efforts to form a consortium that would focus on improving the interoperability of devices that were connected to the internet for communications.  The plan was to “…define a common communications framework based on industry standard technologies to wirelessly connect and intelligently manage the flow

of information among personal computing and emerging IoT devices, regardless of form factor, operating system or service provider.” 

It will be interesting to see how the work progresses through the quagmire of patents and proprietary protocols.

If the effort is even partially successful, the question I raise is, “Can such an approach be expanded to include RFID?”  Considering that the various RFID systems require specific protocols, contain a variety of informational data, and operate on a very wide frequency spectrum (from 125 KHz to 2.45 GHz), could smart phones, iPads, and other current mobile devices be augmented to act as readers?  If one of the mobile devices had such an application and it was coupled with the ability to remotely transfer the captured data to any point in the world, that would be revolutionary.


Speeding up Payments for Toll Roads
Consider, for instance, the current state of the art of toll road applications.  When the user passes a toll point, the vehicle tag is read and the customer account checked for sufficient funds.  If there are insufficient funds, or the account is at a defined “minimum” balance, the driver will be warned with a yellow light or some other means to alert the driver to the pending problem. 

The driver then stops at one of the local toll offices to put more funds into their account, or call the toll office and provide the verbal information to update the account. 

What if, instead, the driver simply had to point their mobile device at the RFID tag, reading the tag ID (and other information used by the agency), select an application on the mobile device to send funds, enter the amount desired, and send the message to the toll agency immediately?  Such an approach would be a benefit to both the driver and the toll agency.


Automated updating of Inventory
Another application that could benefit from the concept of an open internet architecture would be inventory control.  Most RFID inventory applications use mobile devices, aka hand-held readers, to use while walking the warehouse, truck yard, rail yard, etc., pointing the reader at the RFID tag, collecting the information from the tag.  When the walk-about is complete, the reader is placed into a charging/download station, where the captured information is uploaded to a host of some type.  Why not expand the capabilities of the mobile readers to include an internet connection so the information captured could be transferred in real-time to the host or other hosts as required?

There are a number of companies that have begun the development and test implementation of mobile telephone systems employing Near Field Communication (NFC), with a telephone adapter that can perform as a tag or tag reader.  These devices are used to transfer funds.  Such applications do not yet have broad use due to the multiple frequency requirements, different protocols, and security concerns.

It will be interesting to see what progress the new consortium makes over the next few years.  Their challenge is great, but not insurmountable.  The impacts of progress may generate even more opportunity to advance the usefulness of current mobile devices.