Issue No.02 - March/April (2011 vol.13)
Published by the IEEE Computer Society
Phillip A. Laplante , Penn State University
DOI Bookmark: http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/MITP.2011.22
<p>RFID geolocation systems promise to provide numerous pedestrian, industrial, and security applications. But be wary of the dark side of the technology.</p>
My dogs, Maggie and Teddie, have RFID chips implanted near their shoulders to help identify them if they're ever lost or taken. Fortunately, we've never had to use the chips for their intended purpose, but RFID enables other proactive and entertaining possibilities. My 17-year-old son is an excellent developer and eager to build experimental software, so together we plan on exploiting this technology to create all kinds of entertaining RFID-enabled, real-time location applications for our pets.
When Teddie needs to go outside, he gently taps on the sliding glass door. But if we're not in the room, we can't hear his request. We could develop an application that coordinates his proximity to the door with a vibration sensor and outputs a sound to our home's entertainment system in Teddie's "voice" (created by me): "I have to go outside. Please open the door." Teddie acts the same when he wants to be let back in, so we could easily support that behavior as well (using geolocation to determine whether he's inside or outside).
Maggie doesn't tap when she needs to go outside (or wants to be let back in); she just sits quietly and motionlessly by the door. The system could note her proximity to the door and motionless state and issue the appropriate announcement. We could also have fun having our couches and potted plants "talk" to the dogs as they pass by. Or the food bowl could beckon them at meal time.
The dogs wouldn't like it, but we could use location capabilities for disciplinary purposes. For example, I suspect that both Maggie and Teddie lay on the couches or beds (forbidden territory) when we're away. With an appropriate tuning of our yet-to-be-developed software system, we could automatically detect when the dogs are violating house rules. The application can chastise them with a recording of my voice, "Maggie, get off the bed!" Then, when she complies, it could announce, "Good girl, Maggie." I don't believe in shock training for dogs, but other people could adapt this system to provide a gentle reproach when their pets stray into forbidden spaces.
Exploring the Possibilities
The aforementioned applications should be very easy to build using mostly open source components. The software could also be adapted for other purposes in a smart home. There are numerous potential safety and security applications for the elderly, disabled, or very young. The system could easily track if someone had wandered outside of a safe zone or been immobile for too long. Of course, connecting the system with vital signs and other status-monitoring equipment could provide important information for tracking and maintaining the health and wellness of any inhabitant of a private home or of a hospital, school, or retirement facility.
There are entertainment and comfort applications, too. For example, virtual wall art and music and climate-control applications could adapt to the tastes and desires of the most proximate individual in a room. Bill Gates envisioned having (and later realized) such RFID applications in his own home, as described in The Road Ahead (with Nathan Myhrvold and Peter Rinearson, Viking Penguin Books, 1995). These same adaptations could be implemented in public spaces such as schools, libraries, and hospitals, as suggested in some of the articles of this special issue of IT Professional.
There are important nonleisure applications for this technology in our lives, too. For example, unbeknownst to my son, we had an RFID chip installed in his laptop, and his cell phone is Wi-Fi capable (two items he's rarely without). We also had an RFID reader installed in his car, which can communicate with the car's commercial location system, which we had installed in case the car is ever stolen. I also plan on putting an RFID reader with uplink capabilities in his laptop and television set. The laptop device will run off the battery (or use line power if it's plugged in), and the device in the TV will work as long as it's plugged in. He'll take the car, laptop, TV, and cell phone when he leaves for college in a couple of years, so we'll be able to ensure he goes to his classes, is in his room by curfew, and doesn't sneak off campus in his car to go to on some unauthorized road trip or forbidden entertainment event.
My daughter will be going to college the year after my son does, and we plan on tracking her, too. I don't propose to surreptitiously install RFID readers in my wife's belongings, but I hope to convince her that, for security concerns, it would be worthwhile for me to know her whereabouts at all times. It's not that I distrust her, but my security paranoia has been well documented in my various writings for IT Professional. Real-time location via RFID is exactly the technology to both fuel my paranoia and allay my fears.
Postscript: This is Phil's wife. He doesn't realize it, but I had an RFID chip implanted in one of his teeth when he had a "filling" replaced. I also had an RFID tracking system installed in his car, and the tracking system can communicate with his car's location system. I also had an RFID tracking app installed in his omnipresent cell phone. Now when he claims to go to work, I know whether he's really there or off spending time on one of his obsessions, such as Krav Maga.
Post Postscript: This is Agent Lynch of an unnamed government agency. Phil's wife doesn't realize it, but last year when she went in for minor surgery, we had an RFID chip implanted in her shoulder.
Final Postscript: This is Phil again. Agent Lynch doesn't realize it, but the business card that I handed him at the conference last year has a passive RFID chip inside of it….
Aren't the potential applications of real-time RFID location systems exciting?