Cars, Radios & RFID

New deployments and analyst reports demonstrate that the applications that can be enabled via RFID are quickly expanding.

For instance, startup mesh vendor Firetide Inc. has developed a mesh-based system for Silicon Valley-based Bob Lewis Family Dealerships that lets the automobile seller enable quicker test drives and more data collection in the parking lot without digging up pavement to provide connectivity.

The vendor is using its Firetide nodes to backhaul data from WiFi access points in the parking lot that connect to RFID-enabled lock boxes with an 802.11 interface. The lock boxes, which have a keypad on the front, hold the keys for cars that are being test driven or sold. Salespeople can obtain the keys by swiping an RFID card on the reader and entering a PIN number. The car keys are also equipped with RFID tags.

"The lock boxes are being constantly changed out," notes Mike Downes, VP of marketing communications at Firetide. He says that having the lock boxes connected back to a wireless system allows the dealership to more quickly collect timings on when automobiles go in and out of the lot.

U.K. analysis firm IDTechEx reports that such applications are the beginning for RFID, as users move to battery-powered "active" tags rather than "passive" tags. "Active RFID can simulate a passive tag while enabling other functions in, for example, the second generation RFID-enabled cellphone which mimics a contactless payment and transport card," the analysts write.

The analysts expect that RFID in cellphones will increasingly be enabled by the emerging Near Field Communications (NFC) specification. (See RFID: A Market in Waiting?) "It can let the cellphone be used to purchase things by being held near a terminal, such as a vending machine, and it can permit value, pictures and other data to be transferred between cellphones and between cellphones and other electronic equipment in the easiest way possible -- by holding them close to each other," the analysts note.

Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) has been one of the key exponents of NFC, building a reader into its 3220 cellphone.

RFID will also be combined with more short-range technologies, which should help deliver more applications. "Active RFID functions can be performed on various types of short range radio networks and they can be combined with the functionality of these networks," IDTechEx notes. Combining the technologies will allow location data and alerts to be delivered via one device.

Back at the lot, Firetide's Downes notes that users are already looking at possibly moving to different radio technologies. "I know that the dealer is looking at going at to Zigbee rather than WiFi," he says.

A low-cost, low-power specification for short-range wireless connectivity, Zigbee is being pushed by chipmakers such as Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN). (See TI Heats Up Zigbee.)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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