What Is This World Coming To?

BACK in February, a fast-growing show went for its second go-around here in Dallas. Cruising the aisles, you saw many of the same things you'd see at a security show -- big banners, flashy booths, free candy and product demonstrations. What you didn't see much of were any security people. I was treading on unfamiliar territory, alone in a sea of RFID.

RFID World, though in its infancy, has grown leaps and bounds since its first show last year. The first show kicked off with an estimated 2,900 attendees, and this year's show welcomed more than 5,000. Attendees were more informed and eager to know more about how RFID can work for their business. I was there to see how RFID worked in my industry -- security. This also was my second visit to the show and though I felt more informed about the RFID industry than last year, I still had questions. I still did not understand what role RFID played or could possibly play in security.

Walking the floor, I saw no familiar faces nor products that I really felt related to the security industry. Then, from across the room and beyond a crowd of people, I saw an ADT banner in the midst of things. ADT, now that was a brand that I did recognize and was familiar with. Randy Dunn, director of RFID for ADT, is familiar with both industries and sees the future of the security industry incorporating RFID into various applications.

Where's the Convergence?
As IT and physical security converge, there will be a better understanding of RFID and its benefits to security. Like many IT options, RFID is filled with a variety of intricacies. A person could spend an entire day learning the different facets of RFID and still have questions afterwards.

"To put it simply, there are cooperative and non-cooperative forms of RFID," Dunn said.

Where cooperative applications are those that require RFID as a means to simply track assets, non-cooperative applications are those that deal with high-value assets and look for things that might endanger that high-value product. An example of a cooperative application is Wal-Mart and its requirement that all of its suppliers comply with its RFID program. This program is designed to track assets, to help improve customer service and satisfy demand. On the other hand, a non-cooperative example would be Pfizer and its use of RFID to tag shipments of medications. Because counterfeit drugs are such a problem for pharmaceutical suppliers, it is important for such companies to prove that their product is actually the real thing. Pfizer's way of doing this is by providing end-to-end verification through RFID.

"Security is in the non-cooperative business," Dunn said. "Security is all about detecting anomalies."

RFID is used to track and identify. Using it as part of a three-factor authentication process is one of its benefits to security. Maintaining access control through an identification process that reads something you are -- a biometric -- something you have -- a smart card -- and something you know -- a PIN -- can not only help secure a business or a complex, but also provide piece of mind for other employees in the same building.

A Slow But Steady Learning Process
People in the security industry are starting to learn more about RFID and its uses, but as this industry grows and the RFID industry expands, there will constantly be a need to re-evaluate and update security systems and processes.

"I think that in 10 to 20 years, RFID will be something that integrators will need to know about," Dunn said. "The industry is heading that way -- toward a convergence."

As things stand right now, Dunn said that the RFID industry and the security industry really aren't making any major efforts to work together. Where label manufacturers such as Avery Dennison and Zebra are in the business of badging and access control, their RFID divisions deal mostly with cooperative applications. Dunn said that the reason that many security manufacturers aren't taking to RFID right now in non-cooperative applications is because there's no proven ROI that comes with it. Whereas there is proven revenue in cooperative RFID applications, it's harder to track the revenue from non-cooperative applications. And because many security manufacturers are doing well with what they already have, it's going to take some convincing to get people to mess with something that's not broken.

Nonetheless, there's progress being made and we're seeing a steady collaboration of RFID and security.

A Rapid Response
First responders have one of the most important jobs out there. And the security industry works hard to cater to their needs by creating protective equipment, clothing and intelligent products that will make their jobs easier. The RFID industry is working towards the same goal.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology is studying whether RFID technology can be used as a low-cost, reliable means to track firefighters and other first responders inside buildings, and help them navigate under hazardous conditions.

As the tagged products pass by a fixed reader, they transmit data about the product and its location. The NIST researchers are looking at the flip side. They want to know whether inexpensive RFID tags placed inside buildings can help pinpoint the location of a first responder and provide local information to a small handheld device that includes an RFID reader and a navigation unit.

The researchers are evaluating whether inertial sensors, such as accelerometers and gyroscopes, can be used as part of the navigation system to help guide the first responder through the building. When a first responder carrying the device encounters a tag, the system will make corrections by correlating the tag with its location.

The research team's plans over the next several years include defining the parameters needed to determine how many tags are needed and where they should be placed, developing a prototype RFID reader, integrating the reader and navigation hardware and software into a wireless network that can relay position information to others, such as an incident commander, and testing a prototype system in a smoke-filled environment.

The security industry has made great strides to improve efficiency and reliability of its systems in the future. RFID is just another avenue that is on the horizon and will gain momentum as people learn more about it and realize that it can be a valuable application to their works in progress.


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