2009/01/02

Devoxx Keynote: RFID and IBM

Devoxx experimented for the first time with RFID tags to monitor talk attendance. In fact, every Devoxx access-badge was an RFID tag and each room had an RFID reader on its entrance that monitored each individual RFID passing through.

IBM presented their backend processing infrastructure to capture, process and present the RFID information at Devoxx. Looked really very complex -- not sure if such a complex setup was needed or if it was just a way to demo their Tivoli monitoring infrastructure.

I was more interested by the RFID-technology itself:
  • the used RFID readers had a 5 meter detection range, but they stilled missed about 20% of all tags.
  • depending on the frequency used, some RFID tags can be 'shielded' from the readers by water. This can explain the 20% error range because a human body mostly consists of water.
  • the RFID readers can't tell if you're entering or leaving a room. This is deduced by the backend system by correlating the different individual tag-readings. E.g. if a tag is detected in room A and then in room B after 30 minutes, it supposes that you were out for those 30 minutes
  • RFID tags exist in several types, each with its own usage patterns and pros and cons:
    • 'active': the tag has its own battery and radio
    • 'active backscatter': the tag has a battery embedded
    • 'passive': no battery nor radio
  • RFID tags come also in different form factors:
    • single use: as 'printed' labels. This was used for the Devoxx badge
    • rugged reusable tags.
  • the RFID readers are actually quite advanced systems that contain a built-in JVM. This provides opportunity to do some basic processing when retrieving the scanned data.
  • the classical questions on privacy / security / health remain.

It was an interesting experience to get 'live' in touch with the RFID technology, its pros&cons and its technical and ethical issues.

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