What's On The Horizon for RFID Technology?

AMT Lab contributor Anne Marie Padelford recently spoke with Antoine Robidoux, a senior web developer at Intellitix, an RFID solutions company that primarily works in festival access control, integrating with as many third parties (ticketing, event management software) as possible. His focus area is the adaptation of current software to find new solutions allowing for a more efficient use of the system and a better patron experience. They met to talk about current and future possibilities of RFID technology.

Anne Marie Padelford: From your current research and development of RFID technology, do you predict any possibilities concerning the widespread use of RFID technology?

Antoine Robidoux: Well, the technology is pretty far advanced and it’s already being used in many fields. You can see that mainly in industries like big transport or in access systems like getting into a building – so, it is already there. Now, the thing is, it needs to be adapted and used in those other environments where people haven’t thought to use it yet. The technology could really benefit some of those environments. For example, when you’re going to the beach, or when you’re going to places where you don’t have access to your phone or you don’t want to bring your wallet. This is when just an RFID chip on either a wristband, or necklace, or however you want to bring it, would be really beneficial.  We could really benefit from that kind of cashless system usage.

That being said, there’s a lot of places that could benefit from RFID integration, but I don’t think it’s necessarily new stuff, it’s only using the technology we know now and mastering it in those new places.


AMP: What are some obstacles to using RFID technology in permanent indoor settings that you may not have to deal with in short term events outside? And what are some workable solutions, if any?

AR: Well that’s the thing with a festival: if you have wristbands that were mailed out before the event, which means “this is your ticket and you bring it to the festival,” then everybody that comes in already has an RFID chip.

Now, there are a lot of ways to use the RFID chip and one of those is to use it only as a unique identifier where you can pretty much use the same RFID tag and go to a lot of different venues that can pull up different information from their own system based on that RFID number. But you also have other systems that can give you some pretty neat advantages if you actually write some information on that chip. By doing so, you can’t really use the same tag in more than one venue. So now, in those fixed venues, the question is, is the RFID card like an annual pass that you give to a patron? And if so, will they forget it at home when they come back the next time and will you need to give them a new one? Is it something that you keep and give to them at the beginning of each visit?

I know that at festivals one of the problems that we have, or one of the complications that we need to work on, is to be able to issue wristbands to people who didn’t receive them in the mail or to all the workers that need to receive their bands on-site. The issue is that the exchange needs to happen fast. You don’t want to be creating any lines – you want the overall experience to be beneficial and not to have too much deadweight or bottleneck situations.

So, one of the great ways to do that is to have either a badge or a lanyard that your RFID tag is on that you activate for each patron. If they have an annual membership, you can designate that this tag for this visit for this day is attributed to this person and you could even let them keep it at home. For people that only visit for one day, you could issue them the card which allows them to enter and interact with all of the things in the venue and then take it up at the end of their visit.


AMP: Could those single-use RFID tags be reused for future patrons?

AR: Yep, there’s a way to clear everything that’s been registered on them. Then you need to build a piece of software that will keep track of that information, such as the time span each tag is valid and also which person per time span. This is important if you want to have good data afterwards, for example if you want to see where people went during their visit. You don’t want your data to be the same for the 12-year-old little guy and for the 60-year-old! Simply reading the chip may not give you that distinction; you probably want to keep those two visits separated in later analysis, or at least well identified. But all of that can be managed with software, you just need to build the software with that in mind.


AMP: Have you had any experience with RFID printers using paper tickets for disposable tickets?

AR: Yes! Actually, we’ve built something that allows us to automatically print a new ticket, a ticket that wasn’t previously known to the system. Now we just print it, and as we print it we activate it and designate it for “this person right now” keeping in mind that it’s a disposable ticket. Even if it is programmed to void itself after a certain time so the patrons can’t re-enter, it will still be attached to that person – it will be a one-order kind of ticket. This is something that can really get things working, but it’s not necessarily as pretty as other kinds of RFID integration can be. If you use an RFID paper ticket it’s a good way to get around a problem and to make something work. Let’s say you have an inventory of 500 badges and that particular day you have 600 people that come in, then yes, you need those extra hundred tickets, so a paper ticket is a good contingency plan, but I wouldn’t say that it’s the most visually attractive solution.


AMP: If there were no time and resource constraints, what would you want to develop using this technology?

AR: A lot of things could be developed with this technology and also with the system that we already have. RFID technology can be used at different ranges of distance from the chip to the actual reader, so if you consider just the close-distance ones for the moment, they can be a really good solution for doing inventory or to identify stuff like books in a library or something that you want to rent to somebody. RFID tags are a way to identify the items, and the chip won’t get damaged as a barcode could be by friction or outside elements.

Another good inventory tool are those chips that function at long ranges. There are long distance antennas that also work in really close range. So you can have a chip that allows you to read it from 5 meters away, but if you have this special antenna, you can also read it from a couple of inches away and be sure that you’re reading that particular tag. If we take the library example and you have a box of books, you can know every book that is in that box just by passing it by an antenna that can read from far away. This can really shorten the time that you would have taken to empty the box to find out what’s inside it. So that can be really good for online selling or something like that. If a certain order needs to have particular items, you can make sure that the content is actually correct with this inventory tool - it’s a way to control the quality. I’m not saying that humans aren’t good, I’m saying that humans make mistakes sometime and this is a system that can allow you to limit those kind of mistakes.

There’s also a way to put information on the tag like I mentioned earlier, so now we’re talking about reading the tag as the patron might be using it. If you have an exhibit or something like that, you can have information actually on that tag [on the exhibit], and then as people scan with a reader or an app on a smartphone, they can get information about the exhibit from the particular tag they’re scanning. They can also use the reader to collect tokens that are necessary to get a treasure or some reward. For example, you go from place to place and gather all of the tokens, and by gathering one, you get the information to find the next one, and so on. So all of these are things that you can do.

The amazing thing with this technology is that a lot of the systems use passive chips. They don’t need any power, you just program it once – you set the information on there – and it stays. The reader provides the power when you read the information – it’s really something that’s not that hard to put in place to use and then, with the magic of the software around it, it can make something really cool happen. 


Banner image by Maschinenjunge, licensed under Creative Commons.