July 31, 2008 at 12:13 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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A Parisian woman slides her purse across a sensor to get into the metro station.  A competitor in the Enduro off-road motorcycle race completes a lap and his time is automatically recorded by a computer.  Fluffy makes his way to a local pound, and his relieved owner gets a call alerting her of his whereabouts.  At an airport, an American citizen waves his passport in front of a computer to retrieve his ticket information.

All of these scenarios are linked by their enabling technology – Radio Frequency Identification, an automatic identification system.  RFID tags are placed on whatever needs to be identified and transmit their information to readers.  Tags don’t necessarily need to be powered: they can use energy from a radio signal to transmit back their data.  Whether or not a tag is powered affects the range at which it can be read.

This technology brings diverse challenges to computer scientists.  Scale is an issue — as more and more items become tagged, how do we design systems to efficiently store and retrieve information?  Similarly, if dozens of items are transmitting their IDs in an environment, how do we display the information in a human-friendly way?  Surely, a big list of unsorted IDs will not be very useful.  The largest challenge, though, is how to deal with issues of privacy and security.  How much information can be stored by a transit system which uses RFID for payment?  How can we prevent hackers from making unauthorized transactions on RFID-enabled credit cards?  How can people manage their own identities if everything they own is tagged?

The RFID Ecosystem at the University of Washington is asking just these questions and coming up with some interesting solutions.

You can also read more about the ORCA public transit card which is supposed to be integrated into Husky Cards this year.

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