RFID Microchip Technology & the IoT

Abstract

Radio frequency microchip technology is a new innovation in IT that sprang out of the invention of the microchip in the early 1950s and the advances this invention brought to (Radio-Frequency Identification) RFID technology that developed in the early 1940s. The implications that RFID technology and, specifically, smart tagging has effected on society as a whole and to individual organizations through the direct benefits seen by both are innumerable. The storing, interpreting, and use of relevant information is becoming the primary concern in the next decade due to the increasing merger of analog and digital media, and context. In the next decade, RFID smart tags implanted in static objects and the development of the RFID network known as The Internet of Things will allow pervasive computing, ubiquitous computing, sentient computing, and ambient intelligence to transform our very environment—not just our computers—such that it will become smarter because computing power and connectivity will disappear into it.

Discussion

Radio Frequency Microchip Technology and its Predecessor Technology

In this article, I will endeavor to present a review of radio frequency microchip technology beginning with a look at this technology from the perspective of its early development and compare that to its predecessor technology, which led to the modern-day technology of RFID and the incorporation of smart tags into static objects supporting the Internet of Things paradigm. A look at how RFID smart tagging differs from traditional bar codes will also be made. This author will further investigate how RFID microchip technology is a new innovation in IT as opposed to an already-existing technology. Moreover, the implications of RFID microchip technology on society as a whole and the Internet of Things Council and Pachube—two organizations selected for the review—will be analyzed, and recommendations will be made for continued research and exploration of RFID. Furthermore, this author will investigate the significance of RFID technology and the Internet of Things on IT management, offer potential benefits of this technology from a management perspective and recommendations that support the implementation of RFID microchip technology for the betterment of IT. A look at potential obstacles and pitfalls toward full implementation of RFID smart tagging will be approached. A short evaluative discussion will be presented, which will point to the theoretical background into RFID, as well as enumerate the existing literature on RFID development and other published materials relevant to RFID microchip development & implementation as well as the ubiquitous, pervasive, ambient, and salient nature of the Internet of Things. And, finally, this author will draw some conclusions from the key points of this discussion.

RFID originated in the 1940s when the military developed the basic principles surrounding this technology to differentiate friendly from unfriendly inbound aircraft during World War II. When interrogated by allied forces’ radar on naval aircraft carriers or land-based radar positions, the radio transponders would react to the energy waves of the radar and transmit a unique radio transponder signal, which the radar stations would then interpret as either a friendly or enemy signal. This system became known as the Identify: Friend or Foe (IFF) system that laid the groundwork for the development of our modern RFID technology. This RFID transponder system is still in use in modern aircraft that allow air traffic controllers to identify, locate, and keep track of literally thousands of commercial and civilian aircraft that fly within the reach of their airport ground radar. These modern-day transponder systems are referred to as squawk functions (Shepard, 2004).

An RFID system is composed of a rather simple set of three technology components. At the heart of the system is a set of passive transponder tags. The second element of the system is the RFID reader, which energizes the transponder tags when scanning the system, collects the data received from the tags, and sends that information to the third component of the system known as an analysis application. This analysis application is a critical part of the entire system since it is responsible for analyzing the tremendous amount of data that the reader is capable of sending to it. Without the analysis application component, the data collected by the RFID reader from the transponder(s) would be relatively meaningless (Shepard, 2004).. Each transponder has a unique serial number called a Card ID that identifies the tag regardless of what it might be attached to. When the RFID reader is brought within operational range of the transponder, the energy emitted by the reader activates the passive transponder tag causing it to perform a series of functions within the tag that ultimately results in the tag transmitting whatever information is stored in its memory at the time it is read. These passive tags are powered inductively by the reader’s radio-frequency (RF) signal. Most passive tags have a relatively short range of operation (typically one foot) as a result of this RF inductance, which powers them. However, if the transponder tags contain an on-board battery to provide its power, then the resultant active transponder tag has a greater range of operation, which is around 20 feet or more.

Because multiple tags may be scanned simultaneously, RFID readers have built-in anti-collision circuitry that forces multiple transponder tags to take turns transmitting their data to the reader so that one tag’s RF data transmission signals do not interfere with a neighboring tag’s signals. Passive RFID tag systems operate on the 13.56 MHz range of the electromagnetic spectrum and, thus, operate over very short ranges. Active RFID tag systems, however, being more powerful, operate on the 800 MHz to 1 GHz range allowing them to operate at significantly greater distances.

RFID Microchip Technology as a New Development in IT

The development of the first successful microchip came from both the private sector and government organizations. Arguably, the electronics revolution was developed around three separate fields: HCI (human-computer interface), which connected machines to humans; networking that connected machines together; and the most important of all—microchips, which were the machines themselves. The government organization known as DARPA (Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency) unquestionably played a major role in the development of the first two fields. The development of the third field, the microchip, however, stemmed from a combination of government organizations and private individuals both in the United States and abroad. The credit for the invention of the first microchip has been attributed to Jack Kirby, a newly-hired research scientist in the laboratories of Texas Instruments who, on September 12, 1958, developed the first working printed circuit (“The Birth of the Microchip — Longview Institute,” 2010). From this early development later came the idea to pack many of these tiny transistors onto a single chip thereby dramatically reducing the distance between circuits and increasing the speed with which electronic instructions could be transmitted through a computer. Thus, the modern-day microchip was born.

The introduction of RFID technology onto a microchip platform rather than in the traditional form of a transponder, as it had been used in the past, helped to transform the concept of identification, tracking, and the gathering of digital data through the evolution of the RFID transponder into the modern-day smart tag. It was the development of the microchip together with the improvements in RFID technology and the introduction of the smart tag that helped to revolutionize the RFID microchip technology as a new development in the field of Information Technology. RFID technology had been available for several years and had been used in such devices as tolling systems and security badges, but what also helped to make this technology a new innovation in IT was the plummeting costs of the RFID microchips. For example, in 2000, the cost of a RFID smart tag was around $1, whereas by 2003, the cost had dropped significantly to around $0.25 to $0.40 (Niemeyer, Pak, & Ramaswamy, 2003). As a result, this same technology became affordable for use by commercial and business organizations, such as Wal-Mart and other suppliers/shippers of goods, to incorporate into their product line to reduce their overall shipping costs. By 2003, Wal-Mart began introducing RFID smart tagging technology to the supply chain industry by announcing that it wanted its top 100 suppliers to start incorporating the RFID smart tag microchips into cases and pallets of material that it shipped to Wal-Mart (Niemeyer, et al., 2003).

RFID smart tagging technology is different from traditional barcoding technology in that to read barcode labels with barcode readers, the barcodes must be in line-of-sight of the readers themselves and the information contained in the barcode is limited to electronic price code (EPC) information; not true with RFID microchips embedded in smart tags, which can be detected and read within a certain range of the chips, but do not require line-of-sight because they are passive tracking devices that use radio frequency signals detectable several yards away from the scanner, and the chips contain far more information regarding the product, its location, and its status. This radio-frequency transmission is similar to Bluetooth wireless transmission today in that the signals are wirelessly transmitted by antennae embedded in the microchip to the RFID microchip reader (Niemeyer, et al., 2003). RFID smart tagging has enormous implications for supply chain management. However, this same technology has equally important implications for other industries, which will be discussed in detail in the next section (Calloway, 2009).

Implications of RFID Technology on Society

The implications of RFID technology on society as a whole are many-fold. As mentioned earlier, the use of RFID smart tags in products and pallets that are shipped by suppliers to retail establishments and from wholesalers to retailers around the world, the ability of the receivers of these goods to track the products so they are aware when they are being shipped, how long it will take to transport them to their warehouses, to determine the number of products in the shipment, and to analyze the condition of these products in transit—especially when the products are perishable—has had a profound impact on the worldwide supply chain and, as a result, has had a direct impact on society as well. This direct impact can be realized through the cost savings that retailers have passed on to the consumer, thereby reducing the price of the goods that individuals have to pay for them in the marketplace (Niemeyer, et al., 2003; Calloway, 2009). Moreover, RFID smart tags have found their way into products of other industries, such as the automobile industry, pharmaceutical industry, medical field, appliance and clothing manufacturing, home manufacturing, GPS tracking, and utilities metering, which has benefited society to an even greater extent.

First, in the automobile industry, for example, smart tags have been implanted in windshields so that motorists who travel on highways requiring tolls can drive through toll stations without having to stop. The toll stations are able to scan the tags as the cars pass by, thus eliminating the need to collect the tolls directly from the driver and allowing the drivers to continue on their routes uninterrupted. A second example can be demonstrated in the utilities metering environment where smart tags allow residential water and electrical meters to be read by systems that scan the RFID tags embedded in the metering equipment allowing this data to be automatically passed on to utility companies’ computers via satellite without human intervention, eliminating the need for human meter readers, thus speeding up the process while also reducing costs to the utility companies, which are ultimately passed on to consumers. A third example can be found in the pharmaceutical industry and medical field. With the use of smart tags, patient medications and vital signs can be remotely monitored by a physician so that those patients who are diabetic, asthmatic or are at severe risk for heart attacks and stroke, for instance, can receive continual and improved health care and medical treatment without necessarily having to visit their family doctor or specialist in the office (Storni, 2009). And, finally, the use of smart tags in appliances such as smart toasters, smart homes, cell phones and articles of clothing have given individuals a far greater degree of control over their environment, their livelihood, their safety, their global communications, and their comfort. The use of RFID smart tags in cell phones assist with GPS tracking capabilities used by 911 agencies to track individuals who have been rendered unconscious, for example, in automobile accidents, allowing those agencies to provide them with immediate assistance and ultimately save more lives. The use of RFID smart tags in appliances used in the home and in home manufacturing have made it possible for home owners to do such things as adjust the interior lighting of a room by simply walking into the room where the smart tags detect the presence of the homeowner through readers worn in their clothing and automatically turn on or adjust room lighting. And, finally, smart tags sewn into clothing worn in colder climates, for example, have the ability to sense the ambient temperature surrounding the wearer and automatically adjust the apparel’s physical makeup to afford greater protection to the wearer against the inclement weather. These are only a few examples where RFID microchip technology has had direct implications on society as a whole through the direct benefits that society has seen as a result of their use (Hague, 2010; von Kranenburg, 2008). Now that we have looked at the implications of RFID microchip technology on society as a whole, what, if any, implications does this same technology have on organizations?

On “The Internet of Things” Council and Pachube

A European-based organization headquartered in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and founded by Rob van Kranenburg, is known as The Internet of Things Council (IoTC). This council was officially launched at the LIFT@Brussels and Tinker IT conference held at the Interactive Media Art Laboratory (IMAL) in Brussels, Belgium in early December, 2009 to which this author attended and actively participated. The IoTC consists of a group of individuals who constitute a think tank for the Council—network consultancy, legal staff, founder, EU representatives, business leaders, and others—and another group of members that constitute a design studio that builds interactive products, spaces, and events that bridge the physical and the digital world. Together these members and those of the business world contribute their artistic and design talents and business expertise toward the fulfillment of the mission and goals of the organization. The Internet of Things Council reports directly to the European Union (EU) on its development, worldwide strategic plans, and progress in all things having to do with RFID technology and the marketing of the use of RFID throughout the globe. Its founder, Rob van Kranenburg, has led the way in forming the IoTC and in the development of the DIFR network in The Netherlands (von Kranenburg, 2008).

For the IoTC, the implications of RFID microchip technology are profound. The storing, interpreting, and use of relevant information is becoming the primary concern in the next decade due to the increasing merger of analog and digital media, and context. Von Kranenburg (2008) has indicated, the 21st Century vision of computing “in the background” (p. 20) is one where pervasive computing, ubiquitous computing, sentient computing, and ambient intelligence will transform our very environment—not just our computers—such that it will become smarter because computing power and connectivity will disappear into it. Von Kranenburg (2008) quotes Mr. Mark Weiser, chief scientist at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, when he says, “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it” (p. 10). Mr. Weiser, who was credited for coining the term ubiquitous computing, was instrumental in the development of what we know today as Cloud Computing, which is a paradigm shift in how users use computers, where users will no longer need knowledge of, expertise in, or to control the technology infrastructure (Calloway, 2009).

The IoTC firmly believes that through the use of RFID microchip technology and the implantation of RFID microchips into existing static objects, our world will become one where everything can be analog and digitally approached and connected. Our relationship with objects or things will be reformulated. By carrying RFID smart tags, using RFID readers, and developing the RFID network, these objects will be connected to humans and to other objects on a global scale. We will no longer be alone in the world. By outsourcing memory to objects, devices, and to the environment, we will be creating a layer of data that is freely available to everyone so decisions can be made at the most basic level (von Kranenburg, 2008).

Another organization that has representation in the IoTC and is prominently positioned in the world of RFID smart tagging, is a new startup company called Pachube, headquartered in London, UK. Hague (2010) developed Pachube as a platform that assists users in storing and sharing real time sensor data about energy, buildings, and the environment around the world gathered from RFID smart tags, which helps to connect everyone and objects together to form the Internet of Things. The implications of what RFID microchip technology is doing for the environment through Pachube is startling to say the least. Data that can be used to improve our environment that we did not know even existed prior to Pachube and the use of RFID technology is now available at our fingertips for analysis and the determination of real world solutions.

Recommendations for Implementation and Further Development

Rash (2007) has opted to delay the regulation of RFID microchip technology because the European Commission (EC)—a body of the European Union (EU) that manages the day-to-day operations of the EU—does not want to impede its growth and recognizes that this technology has great potential to improve the world in which we live. The EC’s Information Society and Media Commissioner, Vivianne Reding, on March 15, 2007 at the CeBit show held in Hanover, Germany, is quoted as saying that:


“There is an extraordinary potential in [RFID] worldwide. There are
today 1 billion smart radio tags circulating. In ten years, this number
will multiply by 500. In Europe we already have 500 million, and by
2016, it will go to 7, 8, or 9 billion. Europe is very strong in this
domain. We are creating an RFID stakeholder. We leave this group to
give us the solutions that will go into the recommendation on how to
handle the security and privacy of smart radio tags” (Rash, 2007, p.
G8)
.

The U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology, Robert Cressani, in 2007 while attending the Hanover, Germany conference where Ms. Reding spoke, responded favorably to the EC’s decision not to regulate RFID technology in Europe, when he remarked, “She’s [Ms. Reding’s] got all the right elements. It’s in line with what we’d hoped for. We have to make sure policies align”

The US Department of Defense is extremely interested in pursuing RFID microchip technology and for investigating further developments that this technology might bring to the military. In a November, 2003 summit on RFID, DoD confirmed its commitment on RFID and mandated that by January, 2005 all pallets and cases of military equipment and supplies carry RFID microchips to identify and track products by varying type (Shepard, 2004). Shepard (2004) indicates further that the DoD’s primary interest in RFID is based on its progress toward Knowledge-based Logistics in which the military, as a business, will seek to implement RFID microchip technology in their own supply chain, since doing so will make the movement of supplies toward a forward theatre faster, more efficient, and more economical (p. 5).

Von Kranenburg (2008) suggests that RFID technology is at a crucial crossroads in terms of its standards and policies, regulations and deployment of services. He goes on to suggest further that:

“as technology is embedded deeper into everyday life and our
economies, it can not see design as a front-end tool nor as social and
cultural issues as a sphere that has to mold itself around new
technologies. On the contrary,…with RFID, one has to hard code these
issues into the system’s architecture and see them not as problems,
not as drawbacks, but as challenges to overcome at all levels of a
successful introduction of new technologies” (p. 16).

With this statement, Mr. von Kranenburg recommends that further debate on RFID is needed to overcome the polarized state in which it currently appears to be. He further supports the notion that the use of RFID and its ability to provide location-based, realtime data services and applications will strengthen our communities, and that further research and exploration is needed to determine how to prevent data overload within the RFID networks so that the analysis of this data will prove beneficial to everyone (p. 16).

As a participant, rather than a spectator, in the discussions and planning for further implementation and development of RFID throughout the world at the LIFT@BRUSSELS and Tinker IT conference in Brussels, Belgium, this author began work on and is currently exploring the continued development of an MBA for the IoTC that will help to determine to what extent individuals who wish to pursue a formal education in RFID technology and The Internet of Things from a business perspective will need to advance in order to adequately understand the potential for and the application of this new technical innovation in IT. This author, therefore, highly recommends that further research and exploration of the capabilities of RFID microchip technology should be pursued from both a business and academic approach if society and world environments are to reap the maximum benefits from its innovation.

Significance of RFID Microchip Technology and the Internet of Things to IT Management

Information Technology management is the business approach to understanding and exploring information technology as a business resource. This corporate resource determines both the strategic and operational capabilities of the company in the design and development of products and services that maximize the benefit to the customer, corporate productivity, profitability, and competitiveness (“Information technology management – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,” 2010).

Potential Benefits

The potential benefits that RFID microchip technology brings to IT management are numerous. RFID microchip technology has application in many areas of the business sector today that directly influence information technology as a business resource by reducing corporate operating expenses and lowering necessary personnel and equipment typically needed to perform day-to-day business functions. Among the many areas benefited by RFID technology are: machine tool management, barrel stock management, parts identification, car body production, production line monitoring, stolen vehicle identification, asset management, gas bottle inventory control, valuable objects insurance identification, vehicle parking monitoring, toxic waste monitoring, road construction material identification, timber grade monitoring, refuse collection identification, water analysis, blood identification analysis, food production control, duty evasion, security guard monitoring, access control, and personnel identification, to name a few (Shepard, 2004) . Likewise, the significance of the Internet of Things paradigm to IT management is that by carrying RFID smart tags, using RFID readers, and developing the RFID network, static objects will be connected to humans and to other objects on a global scale. By corporate outsourcing of memory to objects, devices, and to the environment, business and individuals alike will be creating a layer of data that is freely available to everyone so decisions can be made at the most basic level (von Kranenburg, 2008). Through the analysis of data that smart tags will deliver to the business sector and to academia, corporate productivity, competitiveness, and profitability will be enhanced through its interface with IT management, and the world will greatly benefit from its use.

Recommendations

I would like to offer three recommendations regarding RFID microchip technology and the Internet of Things as it relates to IT management: (1) Chief Information Officers (CIOs) where they exist, by title, in corporate America and elsewhere, or IT directors where no separate title of CIO is applicable, must come to embrace RFID microchip technology within their own organizations and recognize the fact that it has applications in many of the areas of the business sector that should be investigated and potentially implemented to lower corporate expenses, and reduce the number of personnel and material required to conduct day-to-day operations; (2) Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) in the corporate environment also need to embrace RFID technology as a new innovation in IT and encourage R&D or divisions with similar function within their own organizations to develop future products and services around RFID technology as doing so will help to increase their customer base, promote sales through the increase in the number of customers willing to purchase their products, and encourage the benefits seen by stakeholders and partners in the incorporation of RFID technology into the design and delivery of future products and services; and (3) Corporations must redesign their training programs and enhance the education of their employees to make them more aware of the benefits of RFID not only in the workplace, but in the environment in which they live.

Potential Obstacles to RFID Technology as it Relates to the Internet of Things

What are the obstacles that face RFID microchip technologies and the ultimate goal of the IoTC for the worldwide implementation through an RFID network within the Internet to link all static objects together in a pervasive, ubiquitous, salient, and ambient fashion? These obstacles fall into three broad categories: privacy, security, and standardization.

First, and foremost, in the minds of many citizens throughout society today and within world governments is the idealization that RFID microchip technology—if not properly regulated—could result in a society not unlike that envisioned by George Orwell in his famous novel, 1984, in which the all-seeing Big Brother watches over everyone and everything they do, controlling their very lives. Citizens and privacy advocates voice their concerns that RFID smart tagging of objects and potentially of human beings could lead to a loss of civil liberties, freedom, and privacy rights. RFID is certainly getting its fair share of negative publicity from organizations like
CASPIAN (the Committee Against Privacy Invasion and Numbering) whose membership have risen to block the widespread implementation RFID based on concerns that they have with the ability of individual government agencies to track a citizen’s whereabouts and purchases without their consent (Shepard, 2004). CASPIAN serves the same purpose toward technology as Greenpeace does toward the oil industry, for instance, in that it forces the industry to be candid and forthcoming by revealing to the general public the potential hazards and pitfalls, whether these are real or imagined. The contention of the IoTC and others, especially in Europe, is to make the public aware that the Internet of Things—as presented here—although it needs to be monitored, should not be avoided simply because the benefits that RFID microchip technology (or smart tagging) brings to society through such applications as defense, security, law enforcement, healthcare, veterinary medicine, product manufacturing, food and water protection, and the supply chain far outweigh the risks associated with the potential misuse of the technology (Shepard, 2004; von Kranenburg, 2008).

Secondly, a misconception that many have, and the ensuing claims that data will be exposed in an RFID environment, is that RFID microchip technology can not be made secure. This is absolutely false. What is missing from this equation is the understanding that RFID tag-to-reader communications can be made secure from a variety of already-existing advanced technologies involving cryptography across multiple layers. Security exists at the chip level because silicon technology offers an inherent degree of security. Secure SSL/TLS cryptographic algorithms offer another layer of security to protect the RF transmission from the chip to the tag reader. Many of the applications developed to take advantage of RFID technologies have built-in security through advanced tag-level cryptographic algorithms as well as sophisticated challenge handshake response mechanisms that require the authentication of each tag every time it is accessed. And, there are some companies who have implemented military strength encryption capabilities into their RFID microchip smart tag systems to include the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) approved cryptographic algorithms of Triple-DES and SHA-1 (Kumar, & Allen, 2006).

And, lastly, a potential obstacle for RFID microchip implementation is a lack of worldwide standardization on the regulation of RFID, the policies regarding its usage, and how data will be analyzed and presented so that everyone will have equal and fair access to it. The leading proponents of RFID microchip technology as envisioned by the Internet of Things are the European Union and the United States. However, as the U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology, Robert Cressani, cautioned the EC’s information society and media commissioner, Ms. Vivianne Reding, in March, 2007, the technology is already splintering, and it is vitally important that policies between the EU and the U.S. and other countries who will be involved in developing and implementing RFID technology going forward must be aligned and compatible. Mr. Cressani further stated that he and Ms. Reding would be making separate trips to Asia in the coming weeks to gain the consent of Asian countries and Russia regarding the policies for RFID technology (Rash, 2007). A great deal of effort has been placed into developing standards for different frequencies and applications that use RFID microchip technology. Standards have been developed for the way that RFID smart tags communicate with RFID readers, the manner in which data is formatted and organized, how tests are developed to ensure conformance to these standards, and the applications that will use the technology. Taking the lead on developing standards for the use of RFID is the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which has been developing these standards for the air-interface protocol (the communications standard between smart tags and RFID readers) and for testing the conformance and performance of RFID smart tags and readers. Even with the diligence of this organization to ensure that smart tags used in one country will be readable by RFID readers used in another country, companies are choosing to develop their own protocols and it is the use of specific frequencies for communications between smart tags and readers independently of ISO that potentially threaten the advances of RFID technology worldwide (“A Summary of RFID Standards – RFID Journal,” 2010). Thus, the United States supports the European Union regarding moving forward with further RFID development and seeks to ensure that the policies of the EC relating to privacy and security concerns in the use of RFID align with the policies of the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Evaluation of Contemporary Research, Theory, and Published Materials

Academic research into RFID technology and its associated microchip technology has accelerated over the last several years. As alluded to earlier in this paper, this rapid growth of RFID worldwide is due in large measure to organizations such as Wal-Mart, the U.S. Department of Defense, and two other entities that were not specifically addressed: Tesco and Metro, two European companies. These organizations have implemented and are still pursuing RFID microchip smart tagging as a means of creating The Internet of Things that would ultimately link static objects in the supply chain so they can be tracked, and run applications associated with RFID technology in order to reduce supply system costs and generate more profits as well as ensure greater efficiency in getting goods to their destination at the least cost and quickest means. To illustrate the rapid growth of this technology on a global scale, according to the market research analyst, IDTechEx, the total number of RFID smart tags sold for the 60-year period ending in 2006 was 2.4 billion, with as many as 500 million sold in 2005 alone (Ngai, Moon, Riggins, & Yi, 2008). Ngai, et al. (2008) indicate that IDTechEx estimates sales of another 1.3 billion tags and 500 million smart labels in areas such as logistics, animals and farming, military equipment, library services, and the retail industry. These figures would indicate that RFID microchip technology is an innovative area of technological development that is receiving greater attention nowadays and this trend is expected to escalate.

RFID is beginning to receive greater attention in the field of research due to its rapidly accelerating growth. This increased growth in RFID research has led to new research being conducted in emerging areas of academia in such disciplines as electronic engineering, computer science, business strategy, and information systems. As a result of this growth in RFID research, there has been a significant increase in the number of scholarly papers published in research journals. To get a better sense of the current status of RFID research one must examine the trends in the research domain. Ngai, et al. (2008 citing Curtain, 2007) indicates several new areas where research can be expanded in the area of RFID technology. There are emerging studies in RFID research, but an academic review of the literature in this area is greatly lacking.

Ngai, et al. (2008) sought to close the gap on a review of the literature in the area of RFID technology in a study they conducted for the time period between 1995 and 2005, to summarize what is known about this emerging area of research. Specifically, Ngai, et al. (2008) reviewed 85 published papers in 56 journals over this time period that stemmed from five separate journal databases: (1) ABI/INFORM, (2) Academic Search Premier, (3) Emerald Fulltext, (4) Science Direct, and (5) IEEE/IEE Electronic Library. The objectives of this literature review were to: (1) Develop a classification framework based on theory and enhanced by RFID research, (2) Use the classification to summarize the extent of knowledge in RFID research, (3) Review and analyze the RFID research in both the quantitative developments and qualitative issues that have arisen in a manner that is useful to both researchers and practitioners, and (4) Guide the RFID research such that the interests of future researchers will meet the needs of practitioners. In the Ngai, et al. (2008) review, the classification framework for the literature review was broken down into four categories: (1) RFID technology, (2) RFID applications, (3) Policy and security issues, and (4) Others. The results of the literature review indicated that of the 56 journals that were reviewed, the journals where three or more articles were published and the number of articles published in each area were as follows in descending order: (1) Communication of the ACM – eight articles, (2) Electronic Letters – seven articles, (3) Antennae and wireless propagation letters – three articles, (4) IEEE pervasive computing – three articles, (5) IEEE securing and privacy – three articles, and (6) IEEE transactions on consumer electronics – three articles. Thirty-one out of 85 articles published (or 37% of the total) were on the subject of RFID technology. Surprisingly, the fewest number of articles (11 out of 85, or 8% of the total) were on the subject of RFID security and privacy. Twenty-eight of the 85 articles (or 33% of the total spanning 14 industries) reviewed were written about RFID applications. Library Services and retailing had the greatest number of articles written that were reviewed. Specifically in the area of Library Services, the articles written in this area indicated that RFID smart tags were being used in self-service checkout systems, anti-theft control, inventory control, and for the sorting and conveying of books and AV materials. These articles reported savings in staff costs, enhanced library service, a reduction in books and other material theft, and improved customer service. The articles written on the retailing system dealt primarily with the supply chain and the benefits that RFID technology has lent to the system overall. In the area of privacy and security, of the 11 out of 85 (8% of the total) articles were reviewed five of those articles (45% of the total) dealt with privacy issues, four articles (36% of the total) dealt with security issues, and two articles (18% of the total) dealt with standardization.

The Ngai, et al. (2008) study is presumably the first identifiable academic literature study of its kind to look at RFID to determine the status of RFID research. This literature review indicates areas of RFID research that is lacking and provides a roadmap for future RFID research. Ngai, et al. (2008, p. 515) “anticipate that the increasing interest of researchers and the rapid growth of the body of RFID will lead to a reduction in the proportion of conceptual or descriptive analyses in favor of empirically based studies”.

Several important implications have come out of the Ngai, et al. (2008) literature review. Among these are: (1) With the rising interest in RFID, it can be predicted that there will be a substantial development in this area, with a significant increase in research and published articles; (2) Despite the long history of RFID, the technology has taken off dramatically in the past several years and its application span over 14 industries; (3) The review clearly showed that 80% of the articles written on RFID technology were concentrated in the areas of RFID tags and antennae whereas only 16% of the articles were concerned with the associated communications aspects and RFID networks; (4) Among the articles written about RFID security and policy issues, only two relate to standardization issues, which is a critical part of RFID compliance and compatibility needed to build The Internet of Things; (5) It is likely that most of the technical issues relating to RFID have been solved, but what remains is solving the business issues related to RFID, which should come in the next decade; (6) Research conducted over the past decade concentrated primarily on the supply chain and more attention in research is needed in the sales/marketing and after-the-sale service area; and (7) The study showed that most of the research conducted thus far has been published in technical journals such as IEEE, but as more of the focus on RFID shifts from the technical issues to the business issues, less research will be conducted into the supply chain and more research will be conducted in the value chain, and, as a result, fewer articles will be published in technical journals and more published in management and business journals.

The greatest challenge to RFID research is in closing the gap between researchers and practitioners. The Ngai, et al. (2008) study revealed that 36% of all research conducted in the past decade on RFID dealt with RFID technology, and, in particular, the components relating to tags, readers, and antennae. As RFID technology matures, it is anticipated that we will see more research in the areas of RFID business and organizational applications. In addition, a need exists to provide more beneficial guiding principles for practitioners in the area of RFID system design, development, implementation, and evaluation. The study indicated that more research is needed in this area in the future.

Finally, the Ngai, et al. (2008) literature review resulted in three research questions that remain to be answered. These were: (1) What RFID models and theories on its design, implementation, and evaluation have been designed for practitioners, (2) Has there been adequate models, theories, frameworks, concepts, methods, techniques, and tools that are being applied in practice, and (3) Does RFID research meet the needs of managers and practitioners?

Areas of RFID research that need future attention are: (1) Strategic and operational design considerations, (2) Educational requirements and curriculum implications of RFID technology, (3) The performance of RFID from an economic standpoint that examines the “cradle to grave” costs associated with it, (4) Technical and decision rules to assist practitioners in choosing the right RFID system to implement, (5) The creation of business models of RFID for organizations, (6) The impact of RFID systems on the supply chain in light of the shifting leverage in the marketplace as a result of changes in information asymmetry among trading partners, (7) Privacy and security concerns, regardless of whether they are perceived or real, and (8) The barriers and the critical success factors relating to RFID adoption (Ngai, et al., 2008).

Conclusion

Several conclusions can be drawn from the review of RFID microchip technology and how it applies to the Internet of Things that has been forthcoming in this article. These conclusions are concurred upon by this author in whole or in part through the research that was performed by the author in preparing this report and through the direct association with and participation in the organization with which this author is affiliated, namely, the Internet of Things Council in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

First, RFID microchip technology is seen as a new innovation in IT at least since the first decade of 2000 and—even though Radio Frequency technology existed prior to that time—was not simply a rehash of or reinvention of an already-existing technology in IT. This new innovation came about primarily as a result of two factors: the development of the microchip in the late 50s; and the lowering costs of the RFID smart tag in the early 2000s that encouraged the use of these tags by corporations and organizations like Wal-Mart, Tesco, and Metro into the supply chain, and the military into the logistical pipeline in order for them to effectively reduce their operating expenses, logistical costs, increase the bottom line profits of the businesses, and enhance the knowledge-based logistics that allows the movement of military supplies to the forward theatre in a more timely, efficient, and economical manner.

Second, the implications that RFID smart tagging technology has on society, in general, and specifically on organizations like the IoTC and Pachube are innumerable. Advantages RFID smart tagging brings to such fields as the pharmaceutical industry and the medical field, the supply chain, utilities metering, farming, animal control, housing and appliance manufacturing, the highway systems, automobile industry, and clothing manufacturing, for example, far outweigh any privacy and security risks that might be associated with this technology.

Third, there are many potential benefits that RFID microchip technology brings to IT management and The Internet of Things. The application of RFID technology in the business sector influences IT as a business resource by reducing corporate operating expenses and lowering necessary personnel and equipment typically needed to perform day-to-day business functions. This author made three recommendations regarding the implementation of RFID technology as it relates to IT management that are worth mentioning here—among them are: (1) The investigation by CIOs within corporations of the benefits that RFID bring into the business sector through applications that support it, (2) The acceptance by and incorporation of RFID, on the part of CTOs, for future development of products and services within corporations; and (3) The reworking of the educational curriculum and training of employees within corporations so that they are fully aware of the advantages that RFID bring to the workplace and to their own environments.

Fourth, there are potential obstacles to fully implementing RFID microchip technology through smart tagging of static objects so that they become aware of one another via the ubiquitous, pervasive, and salient RFID network referred to as the Internet of Things. These obstacles fall into three categories: privacy, security, and standardization. However, many of these obstacles can be easily overcome through educational efforts, especially regarding the privacy concerns and security issues, by organizations such as the IoTC and the EU in Europe, and through standardization efforts by such international organizations like the ISO.

And, lastly, although research efforts into RFID have accelerated over the last several years, due to the increasing interests of academia and the rapid growth of RFID worldwide, much more quantitative and qualitative research is needed especially in the areas of privacy and security concerns surrounding RFID, and emerging research in the fields of electronic engineering, computer science, business strategy, and information systems should help to allay many of these concerns in the coming decade. As a result of the popularity of and increased growth in the use of RFID technology in the business and academic sectors, researchers should see an increase in the number of scholarly papers written on RFID, and, as a result, these scholarly works will be more prominent in business and management journals as opposed to technical journals, and the information gleaned from them should help to close the gap between scholars who need to better understand RFID and practitioners who need further instruction on how to implement and use it.

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