Monday, March 5, 2007

The Death of Barcodes?

Barcodes have been around since at least the 1940's, but were not commercially succsessful until the 1980's. Bar codes are used for many things including scanning groceries, tracking inventory, shipping information on a box, on many ID tags, and even on vehicles so the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) can be scanned. Barcodes have been a very succsessful technology in part because they eliminate human error in data entry. Thier only pitfall, is that they have to be scanned with optics or cameras, which means they can't be obstructed at all.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags, not unlike the security tags on expensuve merchendise, are becoming a common replacement of barcodes. They eliminate the requirement of having to be "seen" by scanners. By using radio waves, they are powered up, and send out data telling a computer what the product or item is, and other information. It is now possible to scan an entire pallet of products at once instead of scanning every box. This obviously saves time as well as money. They can be used in grocery stores, for example, to scan an entire grocery cart at once instead of manually scanning each item. In the near future, your fridge could keep track of what's inside it, and could let you know if your're running low. Your future fridge might even be able to order your food for you; all you have to do is eat, and it will place an order for more milk or apples.

RFID can go far beyond the refrigerator, of course. Imagine your car having it embedded on the license plate. Now, instead of reading your tag, a police officer can scan it while he is still driving. This eliminates the distraction of reading it and typing it in a computer. Your car itself may have one too, as a means of keeping inventory at a dealorship. Your clothes may have them too, more or less for the same reasons.

Surely this RFID madness will raise privacy conerns. Many people don't want authorities to know thier exact location via the RFID on thier car or t-shirt. Advertisers would be able to take advantage of this too, barraging you with personal ads wherever you go. And information could be stolen off ID's with these tags. Already, the fedral government is considering on putting RFID on passports, and many privacy advocates are concerned. Obviosly RFID has its uses, but it also has its own pitfalls. Only time will tell if RFID will pe as prevailtant as to be on everything we own, allowing us to be tracked. One thing is for sure, however. RFID will be used in the retail and shipping industry as a means to keep track if inventory. Soon enough you will be able to save time at the checkout by having everything in your cart simultaniously scanned.

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