Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Some thought concerning a rapidly emerging internet of things 2: barcodes, RFID’s and the passive network

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on May 28, 2013

This is my second posting to a series on a rapidly emerging new level of online involvement and connectedness: the internet of things.

I began this discussion in Part 1: starting a new series, with a general orienting discussion as to what an internet of things is, and by conceptually dividing these networked systems into two functionally distinct domains:

• The Internet 1.0 of Things where more and more items and objects are tagged and in ways that can be connected into the internet and tracked through it. These objects – these nodes in this system are passively connected in so this can also be thought of as the passive internet of things.
• The Internet 2.0 of Things where more and more nodes and types of node are added that do communicatively, 2-directionally interact with the internet and with other nodes, and more actively and even proactively than would be possible with simple ID tagging or other 1.0 activity. This can be thought of as the active internet of things.

My goal for this posting is to more fully examine the first of those areas of activity: passive or 1.0 level networks and their connected-in nodes. As I indicated in Part 1, and again in the title to this series installment, the majority of internet 1.0 of things nodes, at least as of today, would consist of items that are barcoded or RFID tagged.

1.0 connectedness is sufficient where the overall networking requirement and goal is simply to track where things are.

• As a start for that, this level of item-networking means redefining the supply chain, where everything that flows through its systems and processes can be at least relatively real-time tracked for precise location and where any slow-downs or speed-ups in their expected transit paths from any given point A to point B can be spotted, and corrective action taken.
• So this becomes a fundamental tool for on the fly and at least relatively real-time supply chain optimization.
• I refer to this tracking as being “relatively” real-time here for a simple reason. Precise location of any given item in this networked information flow can only be known when that item is checked in, through active barcode scanning, or from passing within range of a working RFID location and identification scanner.
• Think of internet 1.0 of things networks as offering granular coverage where the size of the areas that items are identified as being somewhere within – the level or coarseness, or if you prefer granularity of the network varies according to the fineness of mesh of the system of tracking sensors connected in. In some locations: in warehouse systems, for example, this granularity might be very fine with relatively exact locations known at any given time for everything in the system. This means true real-time connectedness and network inclusion.
• For other parts of a system, precise real-time knowledge of where tracked items are might be much looser and more spotty. That, I add, does not necessarily occur in the more readily predictable in-transit stages of the overall supply chain system. The more predictable a point of potential connectivity breakdown, the more effort would be made to address that potential gap leaving the unexpected gaps unattended and open to network disconnects.
• As a simple case in point, consider supply chain tracked inventory items in transit where each has its own RFID tag. If the trucks or other container that these items are moved in all come equipped with scanner/transmitters for identifying their cargo content on an item by item basis, and these transport vehicles are themselves GPS tagged for real-time location, overall 1.0 fineness of location granularity remains very fine, and true item location can be known in this system to a high degree of real-time accuracy.

This type of system can also, of course, be used to track and deter possible theft and for systems security purposes. There, the location of any given item is classified as being within an expected and permitted area or leaving that area and outside of it.

• Consider, for example an internet 1.0 of things approach to identifying and deterring shoplifting.
• A shopper may be allowed to put items they are interested in, into a shopping cart and move it to essentially any general public-accessible and access-permitted point in a store. But if they try taking it out of this permitted area (e.g. out of the store without the RFID tag being deactivated) that would raise a red flag and a response, which could mean a store employee with a hand scanner responding for identifying and locating the item in question.
• This, I add, is just a simplified and even cartoonish example as would-be shoplifters can bring in signal-blocking bags – and an item that suddenly goes off-line while in the store space and in tag scanner range but without being deactivated, as for example from being put in such a container, could also raise a red flag response.

The above only represent two obvious early stage applications of this type of networking capability. It is safe to assume that as these passive network systems develop and become better known, new and even disruptively new applications of their capabilities will be developed.

I am going to turn in my next series installment to consider internet 2.0 of things capabilities and applications, and the emergence of the dynamically active internet of things. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its continuation page, and at Social Networking and Business.

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