The vast majority of “things” will be connected to the Internet via passive RFID technologies so they can be tracked and managed. This is because passive RFID costs much less than most other wireless technologies, does not require line of sight and is truly automatic.
There are already standards, including the Electronic Product Code Information Services (EPCIS) standard, for sharing passive ultrahigh-frequency data with supply-chain partners via the Web.
Some items might be tracked and managed with other technologies, sometimes in conjunction with RFID. Vehicles, for example, might be located in a distribution yard with an active RFID-based real-time location system (RTLS), but use GPS and telematics systems linked to cellular networks when on the open road. And in some niche tracking applications, technologies such as 2-D bar codes, QR codes, infrared sensors or ultrasound, work better than RFID.
Tracking and managing assets, products and other things with RFID and sharing data via the Internet increases visibility and delivers other benefits. Take, for example, Almacafé, a subsidiary of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia.
The organization uses passive UHF RFID systems to track premium coffee beans from farms through processing and warehousing to better compete in the global market. The RFID solution also helps Almacafé boost sales and improve customer loyalty by enabling coffee manufacturers and consumers to access information regarding the origins of a specific batch of beans via the Internet (see RFID Helps Ensure That Special Cup of Joe).
The buzz surrounding the Internet of Things is more about making objects smarter by connecting them to the Internet. Making products smarter increases the potential profit margins they bring, because they are perceived as more valuable.
There are several ways companies can increase the perceived value of their products by connecting them to the Internet:
1) An object can provide more information about itself—where it has been, how it was produced and so on. Embedding an RFID transponder in a product could enable a consumer to read the tag and go to the Internet to find the product’s entire history.
2) An object can interact with other objects around it—for example, a printer might know that an ink cartridge being inserted is counterfeit and not allow it to be used.
3) An object can sense the world around it and react—a shipment of drugs might send an alert when it is being stored at a temperature outside an acceptable range, or a building might sense when rooms are empty and turn off the lights.
4) The object can be controlled remotely—a coffee maker might be programmed via the Internet to start brewing using a smartphone application.
The editor of SensorMap, and pursuer of relatively interesting information, Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.