RFID Started The Internet of Things Movement… Now It’s Set to Lead It

IoT - Internet of Things

October 11, 2016

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is the new buzzword in almost every industry sector. It describes the futuristic connected era we find ourselves moving rapidly into. In this new world, all manner of objects are sensing and reacting to their environment, gaining intelligence by connecting to the Internet. What was once dumb is now smart, what was once inanimate is now animate.

Ask most people to describe the IoT and they generally refer to sensors, gathering and sending data, via a wireless connection to a central hub. In that hub, data is collated and analyzed, creating actionable intelligence for humans or automatic machine responses. The origins of the IoT, however, are slightly different and that original idea is now set shape the future of this technology revolution.

The term “Internet of Things” was actually first coined by a British entrepreneur Kevin Ashton, in 1999, while working at the MIT Auto-ID Labs. Ashton was referring to and envisioning a future global network of objects connected specifically by RFID (radio-frequency identification) technology. Usually a system of one-way communication, where passive tags embedded with information are picked-up by carefully placed readers to infer an object’s presence and movement.

“In the twentieth century, computers were brains without senses—they only knew what we told them. That was a huge limitation: there is many billion times more information in the world than people could possibly type in through a keyboard or scan with a barcode. In the twenty-first century, because of the Internet of Things, computers can sense things for themselves. It’s only been a few years, but we already take networked sensors for granted,” Ashton told the Smithsonian magazine last year.

Over the past 17 years the IoT has gradually become a ubiquitous term for all connected “things”, while RFID technology excelled in just specific applications. That is until recently, however, as new technological developments and the evolution of use-cases are putting RFID back at the forefront of the industrial revolution it originally started.

Innovative advances such as wide-area RFID opened up new exciting opportunities for the IoT, but RFID’s biggest impact on the IoT might well be economic. While the cost of a sensor has come down to a matter of dollars, a passive RFID tag only costs a few cents, which has a huge impact on what can be connected. Only RFID can connect entire retail inventories, for example.

While smart sensors enable us to access a variety of information gathered in real time, their cost and size limit their application. If the Internet of Things is truly to become the Internet of Everything, then RFID will undoubtedly have to play a major role.

Coming Up Next For IoT

There are about 10 billion new RFID tags deployed every year, and this number is growing rapidly. Retail alone will consume 100 billion tags within a decade, according to analysts’ estimates, suggesting a massive stream of data to take in, analyze and make use of.  The solution to this challenge is IoT software platforms capable of processing massive amounts of data in real time.  Look forward to us covering this topic in out next blog post.


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