Saturday, February 23, 2008

A webcomic of romance,sarcasm,math,and language.

A webcomic of romance,
sarcasm, math, and language.

Accident Simulation

talent imitates, genius steals.

accident (simulation)
Originally uploaded by kelfoto.

Everything is destined to reappear as simulation. Landscapes as photography, women as the sexual scenario, thoughts as writing, terrorism as fashion and the media, events as television.

Things seem only to exist by the virtue of this strange destiny. You wonder whether the world itself isn't just here to serve as advertising copy in some other world.

Jean Baudrillard, America

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tracking Humans Through the RFID Ecosystem

ZDNet Asia reports that a project called RFID Ecosystem, where researchers give RFID tags to 50 voluntary participants to put on either themselves on their belongings, is in the works.

The location of the tags will be recorded every five seconds, saved to a database and published to Web pages, ZDNet reports. The tracking, facilitated by 200 antennas, will be constrained to the computer science building within the university.

"Our goal is to ask what benefits can we get out of this technology and how can we protect people's privacy at the same time," UW associate professor Magda Balazinska said in a statement. "We worry that these technologies are being implemented too quickly, and with this system we want to explore it in a controlled environment, to inform the public and policymakers about issues we might face."

New long-range RFID technology from VTT for Chinese road toll

New long-range RFID technology from VTT for Chinese road toll


VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is developing a traffic and road toll monitoring system based on long-range RFID remote identification technology in China.

The new system could become the foundation for nation-wide traffic and road toll monitoring. The new technology will be first deployed in Wuhan, a city with a population of 7 million. Readers will be installed on each of the city's bridges during this year. The goal is to eventually expand the RFID reading system to cover the entire city and use it for traffic control purposes. Nation-wide adoption of the system would require millions of readers and hundreds of millions of RFID tags.

n Western countries, road tolls utilise either active long-range tags or a GPS-based positioning system. However, passive long reading range UHF RFID enables extremely low-cost technology for road tolls or other traffic applications. It is easier to first commercialise new long-range RFID technology in China before introducing it in the West, since compared with European countries, China has a much more open infrastructure.

VTT will deploy its long-range RFID technology solutions in China through FennoID, a Finnish company established for this very purpose. FennoID is a shareholder in ReadTech, a recently established Chinese company which markets the systems in China and invests in mass production of RFID tags. The company will supply the City of Wuhan with one million RFID tags, with deliveries scheduled to begin before the end of the year. In the first phase, some 100 readers for the road traffic application will be installed on the city's bridges. In the future, the company will also supply RFID tags and systems to the huge and ever-growing Chinese transport and logistics market. The first non-transport applications are designed for personal identification and logistics solutions for the automotive industry.

Low-cost RFID technology offers vast application opportunities, and it is continuously expanding to new fields. RFID technology can also reduce and even prevent counterfeiting of products - drugs, for example - which is a common problem in Asia.

One of the companies currently applying the technology is Mercedes-Benz, where RFID identification of car parts helps speed up production of the company's S-Class cars. RFID identification boosts the efficiency of the entire production process and even extends to maintenance, which is also to the benefit of the buyer. The RFID tags developed by VTT are particularly suited for metal surfaces. In the pilot stage, VTT's tags outperformed - by a wide margin - all other RFID tags tested by Daimler Benz.

Heikki Seppä, Research Professor at VTT, believes it will not take long before tagging technology is used in electronic driving licences and to identify cars - at least in China. Potential RFID applications include parking and speed monitoring systems, road tolls, border clearance and theft prevention. In traffic control RFID identification can be used to clear the way for ambulances and fire engines. The police and the insurance sector have already expressed an interest in the advantages offered by RFID technology. RFID tag technology was originally developed mainly for logistics purposes. According to Seppä, it is essential that the technology is also utilized in transport and payment applications. Thanks to large volumes, the cost of both RFID tags and readers can be brought down to very low levels.

VTT has been actively developing RFID technology for more than ten years and made significant advances in the field globally. For example, the integrated circuit and antenna used in the RFID tag now introduced in China are based on innovations made at VTT. VTT holds several patents related to tagging technology and remote identification.

The Power Of Us

The Power Of Us
Mass collaboration on the Internet is shaking up business

The 35 employees at Meiosys Inc., a software firm in Palo Alto, Calif., didn't know they were joining a gang of telecom-industry marauders. They just wanted to save a few bucks. Last year they began using Skype, a program that lets them make free calls over the Internet, with better sound quality than regular phones, using headsets connected to their PCs. Callers simply click on a name in their Skype contact lists, and if the person is there, they connect and talk just like on a regular phone call. "Better quality at no cost," exults Meiosys Chief Executive Jason Donahue. Poof! Almost 90% of his firm's $2,000 monthly long-distance phone bill has vanished. With 41 million people now using Skype, plus 150,000 more each day, it's no wonder AT&T (T ) and MCI Inc. (MCIP ) are hanging it up.

How can a tiny European upstart like Skype Technologies S.A. do a number on a trillion-dollar industry? By dialing up a vast, hidden resource: its own users. Skype, the newest creation from the same folks whose popular file-sharing software Kazaa freaked out record execs, also lets people share their resources -- legally. When users fire up Skype, they automatically allow their spare computing power and Net connections to be borrowed by the Skype network, which uses that collective resource to route others' calls. The result: a self-sustaining phone system that requires no central capital investment -- just the willingness of its users to share. Says Skype CEO Niklas Zennström: "It's almost like an organism."

A big, hairy, monstrous organism, that is. The nearly 1 billion people online worldwide -- along with their shared knowledge, social contacts, online reputations, computing power, and more -- are rapidly becoming a collective force of unprecedented power. For the first time in human history, mass cooperation across time and space is suddenly economical. "There's a fundamental shift in power happening," says Pierre M. Omidyar, founder and chairman of the online marketplace eBay Inc. (EBAY ) "Everywhere, people are getting together and, using the Internet, disrupting whatever activities they're involved in."

Collective Clamor
Behold the power of us. It's the force behind the collective clamor of Weblogs that felled CBS (VIA ) anchorman Dan Rather and rocked the media establishment. Global crowds of open-source Linux programmers are giving even mighty Microsoft Corp. (MSFT ) fits. Virtual supercomputers, stitched together from millions of volunteers' PCs, are helping predict global climate change, analyze genetic diseases, and find new planets and stars. One investment-management firm, Marketocracy Inc., even runs a sort of stock market rotisserie league for 70,000 virtual traders. It skims the cream of the best-performing portfolios to buy and sell real stocks for its $60 million mutual fund.

Although tech companies may be leading the way, their efforts are shaking up other industries, including entertainment, publishing, and advertising. Hollywood is under full-scale assault by 100 million people sharing songs and movies online via programs such as Kazaa and BitTorrent. The situation is the same with ad-supported media: Google Inc.'s (GOOG ) ace search engine essentially polls the collective judgments of millions of Web page creators to determine the most relevant search results. In the process, it has created a multibillion-dollar market for supertargeted ads that's drawing money from magazine display ads and newspaper classifieds.

Most telling, traditional companies, from Procter & Gamble Co. (PG ) to Dow Chemical Co., are beginning to flock to the virtual commons, too. The potential benefits are enormous. If companies can open themselves up to contributions from enthusiastic customers and partners, that should help them create products and services faster, with fewer duds -- and at far lower cost, with far less risk. LEGO Group uses the Net to identify and rally its most enthusiastic customers to help it design and market more effectively. Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY ), Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP ), and others are running "prediction markets" that extract collective wisdom from online crowds, which help gauge whether the government will approve a drug or how well a product will sell.

At the same time, peer power presents difficult challenges for anyone invested in the status quo. Corporations, those citadels of command-and-control, may be in for the biggest jolt. Increasingly, they will have to contend with ad hoc groups of customers who have the power to join forces online to get what they want. Indeed, customers are creating what they want themselves -- designing their own software with colleagues, for instance, and declaring their opinions via blogs instead of waiting for newspapers to print their letters. "It's the democratization of industry," says C.K. Prahalad, a University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business professor and co-author of the 2004 book The Future of Competition: Co-Creating Unique Value with Customers. "We are seeing the emergence of an economy of the people, by the people, for the people."

Peer Production
That suggests even more sweeping changes to come. Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, sees a common thread in such disparate innovations as the Internet, mobile devices, and the feedback system on eBay, where buyers and sellers rate each other on each transaction. He thinks they're the underpinnings of a new economic order. "These are like the stock companies and liability insurance that made capitalism possible," suggests Rheingold, who's also helping lead the Cooperation Project, a network of academics and businesses trying to map the new landscape. "They may make some new economic system possible."

Perhaps they already are. Yochai Benkler, a Yale Law School professor who studies the economics of networks, thinks such online cooperation is spurring a new mode of production beyond the two classic pillars of economics, the firm and the market. "Peer production," as he calls work such as open-source software, file-sharing, and Inc.'s (AMZN ) millions of customer product reviews, creates value with neither conventional corporate oversight nor market incentives such as payment. "The economic role of social behavior is increasing," he says. "Things that would normally just dissipate in the air as social gestures become economic products."

Indeed, peer production represents a sea change in the economy -- at least when it comes to the information products, services, and content that increasingly drive economic growth. More than two centuries ago, James Watt's steam engine ushered in the Industrial Revolution, centralizing the means of production in huge, powerful corporations that had the capital to achieve economies of scale. Now cheap computers and new social software and services -- along with the Internet's ubiquitous communications that make it easy to pool those capital investments -- are starting to give production power back to the people. Says Benkler: "This departs radically from everything we've seen since the Industrial Revolution."

Sound pretty threatening to anyone invested in the status quo? You bet. Indeed, as the title of Rheingold's book implies, there could be a dark side to this new cooperative force, especially if it results in mob rule. Quite often, the best solution to a problem comes from the sudden flash of insight from a solitary genius such as Charles Darwin or Albert Einstein. It would be a tragedy if these folks, sometimes unpopular in their times, got lost in the cooperative crowds. Clearly, peer production has its limits. Almost certainly, it will never build railroads, grow wheat, run nuclear power plants, or write great novels.

Yet this cooperative force may spread beyond such easily shared commodities as information, knowledge, and media. People are starting to use the Net to pool tangible goods as well. In a sense, Skype enables people to share computer hardware. Thanks to the Web's ability to serve as a meeting ground and scheduling coordinator, it's becoming economical to share cars, for example. Services such as Zipcar Inc. and Flexcar let members use the Net to reserve one of a fleet of autos in crowded cities, almost on demand, for an hourly fee.

What's driving all this togetherness? More than anything, an emerging generation of Net technologies. They include file-sharing, blogs, group-edited sites called wikis, and social networking services such as MySpace and Meetup Inc., which has helped everyone from Howard Deaniacs to English bulldog owners in New York form local groups. Those technologies are finally teasing out the Net's unique potential in a way that neither e-mail nor traditional Web sites did. The Net can, like no other medium, connect many people with many others at the same time.

What sets these new technologies apart from those of the Internet's first generation is their canny way of turning self-interest into social benefit -- and real economic value. They have what tech-book publisher Tim O'Reilly calls an "architecture of participation," so it's easy for people to do their own thing: create a link on their Web site to another Web site they like; rate a song; or just show off their knowledge with an online product review. Then, those actions can be pooled into something useful to many: the 3 billion song ratings that help people create personalized Net radio stations on Yahoo (YHOO )! Inc. or Amazon's millions of customer-generated product reviews, which help decide hits and duds. Exclaims Amazon CEO Jeffrey P. Bezos: "You invite the community in, and you get all this help."

It's surprisingly good help, too. New research indicates that cooperation, often organized from the bottom up, plays a much greater role than we thought in everything from natural phenomena like ant colonies to human institutions such as markets and cities. It's what New Yorker writer James Surowiecki, in his illuminating 2004 book of the same name, calls "the wisdom of crowds." Crowds can go mad, of course, but by and large, it turns out, they're smarter at solving many problems than even the brightest individuals.

The Internet's supreme group-forming capability suggests the rise of an almost spooky group intelligence. Within minutes of Pope John Paul II's death, hundreds of eBay sellers had posted related products for sale. Whether it is responding to world events or new products such as Sony Corp.'s (SNE ) PSP game machine, eBay's hive mind reacts to shifts in demand much faster than traditional companies with layers of management approval. Although eBay recently has seen some mature markets in the U.S. and Germany slow, the group smarts have helped keep growth more than respectable, with gross merchandise sales this year expected to rise 32%, to $45 billion. As eBay CEO Margaret C. Whitman has noted: "It is far better to have an army of a million than a command-and-control system."

More companies are starting to understand the logic. If they can get others to help them design and create products, they end up with ready-made customers -- and that means far less risk in the tricky business of creating new goods and markets. So businesses are accessing the cyberswarm to improve everything from research and development to marketing. Says Alpheus Bingham, vice-president for Eli Lilly's e.Lilly research unit: "If I can tap into a million minds simultaneously, I may run into one that's uniquely prepared."

Procter & Gamble's $1.7 billion-a-year R&D operation, for instance, is taking advantage of collective online brain trusts such as Lilly company InnoCentive Inc. in Andover, Mass. It's a network of 80,000 independent, self-selected "solvers" in 173 countries who gang-tackle research problems for the likes of Boeing Co. (BA ), DuPont (DD ), and 30 other large companies. One solver, Drew Buschhorn, is a 21-year-old chemistry grad student at the University of Indiana at Bloomington. He came up with an art-restoration chemical for an unnamed company -- a compound he identified while helping his mother dye cloth when he was a kid. Says InnoCentive CEO Darren J. Carroll: "We're trying for the democratization of science."

And apparently succeeding. More than a third of the two dozen requests P&G has submitted to InnoCentive's network have yielded solutions, for which the company paid upwards of $5,000 apiece. By using InnoCentive and other ways of reaching independent talent, P&G has boosted the number of new products derived from outside to 35%, from 20% three years ago. As a result, sales per R&D person are ahead some 40%.

The online masses aren't just offering up ideas: Sometimes they all but become the entire production staff. In game designer Linden Lab's Second Life, a virtual online world, participants themselves create just about everything, from characters to buildings to games that are played inside the world. The 45-person company, which grossed less than $5 million last year, makes money by charging players for virtual land on which they build their creations. Second Life's 25,000 players collectively spend 6,000 hours a day actively creating things. Even if you assume only 10% of their work is any good, that's still equal to a 100-person team at a traditional game company. "We've built a market-based, far more efficient system for creating digital content," says Linden CEO Philip Rosedale.

Likewise, groups online are starting to turn marketing from megaphone to conversation. LEGO Group, for instance, brought adult LEGO train-set enthusiasts to its New York office to check out new designs. "We pooh-poohed them all," says Steve Barile, an Intel Corp. (INTC ) engineer and LEGO fan in Portland, Ore., who attended. As a result, says Jake McKee, LEGO's global community-development manager, "we literally produced what they told us to produce." The new locomotive, the "Santa Fe Super Chief" set, was shown to 250 enthusiasts in 2002, and their word-of-mouse helped the first 10,000 units sell out in less than two weeks with no other marketing.

Corporate planners are even starting to use the wisdom of online crowds to predict the future, forecasting profits and sales more precisely. Prediction markets let people essentially buy shares in various forecasts, often with real money. Most famously, they've been employed in the University of Iowa's experimental Iowa Electronic Markets to determine, with remarkable accuracy, the most likely winner of the Presidential election. The ease of organizing groups on the Net has caused an explosion in their use, says Emile Servan-Schreiber, CEO of NewsFutures Inc., a consultant that has run 40,000 prediction markets for companies and publications.

Mob Mentality
Hewlett-Packard Co.'s (HPQ ) services division was having trouble a few years ago with forecasts in the first month of a quarter. So Bernardo A. Huberman, director of HP Labs' Information Dynamics Lab, set up a market with 15 finance people not normally involved in such planning. They bought and sold virtual stock that represented a range of forecasts at, above, and below the official company forecast. Their collective bets yielded a 50% improvement in operating-profit predictability over conventional forecasts by individual managers.

For all the benefits, Net-based cooperation holds plenty of peril for the unwary. Obviously, not all crowds are wise. Even The Wisdom of Crowds author Surowiecki wonders if the Net connects like-minded people so well that it can amplify groupthink. "The more we talk to each other, the dumber we can get," he notes. Groups that discourage independent thought potentially could put a damper on out-of-the-box ideas from brilliant individuals. They can also become herds that buy or dump stocks on momentum alone. For that matter, they can devolve into lynch mobs and terrorist groups.

As companies have learned, the online hordes can quickly turn against them. Last September bike-lock manufacturer Kryptonite tried to downplay a blogger video that showed how to open its bike locks with a BIC pen. But the video instantly spread across the Net, forcing the company to spend more than $10 million on lock replacements.

To contend with this rising people power, corporations will have to craft new roles for themselves and learn new ways to operate in order to stay relevant. They'll be unable to keep secrets for long amid the chorus of online voices, as Apple Computer Inc. (AAPL ) learned when fan sites spilled the beans on unreleased products. Managers and employees will have to learn how to take orders from customers more than from bosses. "Networks are becoming the locus for innovation," says Stanford University professor Walter W. Powell. "Firms are becoming much more porous and decentralized."

The challenges, though, go to show that we're not talking about merely a new capitalist tool -- at least not one that's dominated by big capitalists. Upstarts, both ad hoc groups and new companies, are seizing the initiative far more than are established businesses. They're transforming industry after industry faster than individual companies can cope with.

Nowhere has that phenomenon happened faster than in software. Collaborative open-source development is rapidly moving beyond basic utility software like Linux to mainstream applications as well. An especially eye-opening example is SugarCRM Inc., which provides an open-source version of customer-relationship management software now dominated by Siebel Systems (SEBL ) and Inc. (CRM ) The 10-person outfit's software, which CEO John Roberts calls "the collective work of bright CRM engineers around the world," has been downloaded more than 235,000 times for free.

The company makes money from services such as technical support and a $40-a-month Web-based service, as well as more fully featured corporate software for which it charges $239 per user per year. Scarcely a year old, SugarCRM won't reveal its finances, but its business model suggests a big change in how the software industry works. "The fact that everyone can participate [in open-source] is creating a new market ecology," says Kim Polese, CEO of SpikeSource Inc., a startup providing bundles of open-source products. Or, as Roberts adds brightly: "We're turning a $10 billion market space into a $1 billion market space."

The same scary prospect lies ahead for other information-based industries, such as entertainment, media, and publishing, that are rapidly going digital. People are not only sharing songs and movies -- legally or not -- but also creating content themselves and building sizable audiences. The threat comes from more than the 10 million-plus blogs. Overall, 53 million Americans have contributed material to the Net, from product reviews to eBay ratings, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The most breathtaking example: Wikipedia. Some 5 million people a month visit the free online encyclopedia, whose more than 1.5 million entries in 200 languages by volunteer experts around the globe outnumber Encyclopedia Britannica's 120,000, with surprisingly high quality. "Our work shows how quickly a traditional proprietary product can be overtaken by an open alternative," says co-founder Jimmy Wales. Unlike Britannica, Wales is not aiming to generate much, if any, revenue. But "that doesn't mean that we won't destroy their business," he notes. Britannica spokesman Tom Panelas says sheer volume of articles isn't a measure of quality and may be overload for most readers and researchers.

Then again, the cooperative crowds offer a lifeline to beleaguered media such as newspapers. The five-year-old online paper OhmyNews in South Korea has marshaled 36,000 "citizen journalists" to write up to 200 stories a day on everything from political protests to movies. Its popularity with 1 million daily visitors has made it the sixth-most influential media outlet in Korea, according to a national magazine poll -- topping one of the three television networks. "It's participatory journalism," explains founder Oh Yeon Ho, who says OhmyNews turned a profit last year. The idea is starting to catch fire in the U.S., too, via independent citizen-media efforts such as Backfence Inc. and Bayosphere and budding initiatives by E.W. Scripps Co. (SSP ) and others. The New York Times Co. is also testing the waters: In March, it bought, which has 475 citizen experts on consumer electronics, personal finance, and other topics.

Even industries that traffic in physical goods are being turned upside down by Net-driven sharing. In retail, for instance, "consumers" are becoming active participants in the merchants they buy from, transforming the venerable suggestion box into something more influential. At, thousands of volunteers write buyer's guides and lists of favorite products. Amazon also lets thousands of merchants, from Target Stores (TGT ) to individuals, sell on Amazon pages.

What's more, Amazon is opening up the technology behind product databases, payment services, and more to 65,000 software developers. They're creating new services, such as the ability to compare brick-and-mortar store prices with Amazon's by scanning a bar code into a cell phone. Thanks in part to such moves, the company is solidly profitable on $6.9 billion in sales last year. "We're all building this thing together -- Amazon itself, outside developers, associates, and customers," says Jeff Barr, Amazon's Web services evangelist.

That raises a key point: All of us will have to take on more responsibility. And to get the most out of the new cooperative tools and services, we'll have to contribute our time and talent in new ways -- such as rating a seller on eBay or penning a short essay in Wikipedia. But the rewards will be more personalized products and services that we don't merely consume, but help create.

Ultimately, all this could point the way to a fundamental change in the way people work together. In 1968, ecologist Garrett Hardin popularized the notion of the tragedy of the commons. He noted that public resources, from pastures and national parks to air and water, inevitably get overused as people act in their own self-interest. It's a different story in the Information Age, contends Dan Bricklin, co-creator of the pioneering PC software VisiCalc and president of consultant Software Garden Inc. in Newton Highlands, Mass.

Instead, he says, there's a cornucopia of the commons. That rich reward may be worth all the disruption we've seen and all the more still to come.

Internet of things: working bibliography

Internet of things: working bibliography

List last updated: 13.04.06

Auto-ID Center: The Networked Physical World: Proposals for Engineering the Next Generation of Computing, Commerce & Automatic-Identification (pdf) (01.10.00)
HP Labs: People, Places, Things: Web Presence for the Real World (pdf) (02.00)

Forbes: The Internet of Things (18.03.02)
Auto-ID Center: Why Technical Breakthroughs Fail: A History of Public Concern with Emerging Technologies (pdf) (01.11.02)

NACS: The Internet of Things (29.01.03)
Auto-ID Center: Public Policy: Understanding Public Opinion (pdf) (01.02.03)
Info World: Chicago show heralds new 'Internet of things' (15.09.03)
Guardian Unlimited Technology: The internet of things (9.10.03)
Digital ID World: RFID and the Internet of Things (pdf) (11.03)
Sun Developer Network: Toward a Global "Internet of Things" (11.11.03)

Computerworld: The State of RFID: Heading Toward a Wireless Internet of Artifacts (11.08.04)
Scientific American: The Internet of Things (10.04)
Business Week: A Machine-To-Machine "Internet Of Things" (26.04.04)
Sterling keynote at SIGGRAPH 04: Keyed to the future (10.08.04)
BusinessWeek: A Vast Web of Tiny Sensors (01.09.04)

Addison-Wesley: RFID: Applications, Security, and Privacy (06.07.05)
CS Monitor: The Web is all around us - even on the walls (07.07.05)
The Boston Globe: The Internet of things (31.07.05)
Bruce Sterling: Shaping Things (09.05) An Internet of Things (01.09.05)
IFTF's Future Now: An Internet of Things, or an Internet of Verbs? (02.09.05)
Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre: Spychips (04.10.05)
ITU Internet Reports 2005: The Internet of Things (17.11.05)
BBC News: UN predicts 'internet of things' (17.11.05)
CIO: Next Big Things: Internet of Things (18.11.05)
BusinessWeek Online's "Voices of Innovation" podcast: Interview with Bruce Sterling (mp3) (13.12.05)
IHT: Wireless: Creating Internet of 'Things': A scary, but exciting idea (20.11.05)

MIT Press: Shaping Things MediaWork Pamphlet & John Thackara's WebTake (05? 06?)
Nicolas Nova and Julian Bleecker: Blogjects and the new ecology of things _ lift06 workshop (pdf) (01.02.06)
Julian Bleecker: Why Pigeons that Blog Matter, or: The Internet of Things is not an Internet of Arphids (17.02.06)
Julian Bleecker: Space, Place and Things — New Rules of Tenancy _within_ the Internet of Things (22.02.06)
Julian Bleecker: A Manifesto for Networked Objects — Cohabiting with Pigeons, Arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things (pdf) (26.02.06)
Melanie R. Rieback et al.: RFID Viruses and Worms (02.03.06)
Dataweek: The 'Internet of things' said to be the next technological revolution (08.03.06)
BBC News: Radio tag study revealed at Cebit (10.03.06)
Julian Bleecker: Society of the Spectacle (2.0): Surveillance in the Internet of Things (14.03.06)
Nature: 2020 computing: Everything, everywhere (23.03.06)

Wikipedia: An internet of things (n.d.)
Newsweek: An Internet of Things (n.d.)

Top 10 Inventions Needed - Future Technology

Top 10 Inventions Needed - Future Technology

This was a wish list that was originally intended to provide inspiration for inventors. First written in April of 1997, I thought it might be fun to follow-up each year and find out if anyone has been working on these ideas for future technology. I have included websites for you to "check out" inventions that are, are close to, or kinda close to what I am hoping will soon exist in the technology available to us presently.

1. Future Technology - Free Energy

I want my energy bill to come only once, not every month. So be it solar or electro-magnetic, please make it personal and portable with batteries that keep going and going.

Check out - D.O.E. Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

2. Future Technology - Transporter

What kind of technology is required to scramble a person's atoms and send them for regrouping in foreign lands all in the blink of an eye? Imagine, I could work in Tokyo and sleep in Paris. Beam me up.

Check out - Quantum Teleportation or Scientists Report 'Teleported' Data

3. Future Technology - Replicator Technology (Stuff for Free)

Every time I saw Captain Picard (Star Trek Next Generation) ordering his Earl Grey Tea or Councilor Troy getting a triple alien fudge dessert from one of those replicators on the Enterprise, it made me jealous. I imagine you could send the dirty dishes back to the void where they came from. BTW, a replicator is a device that uses transporter technology to dematerialize quantities of matter and then rematerialize that matter in another form.

4. Future Technology - Universal Communicator

Forget long distant bills and roaming charges (especially with me working in Tokyo and sleeping in Paris). I want a very small device that lets me talk and see anyone, anywhere and anytime. All for the price of the device and please throw in the ability for universal translation for a modest surcharge.

Check out - Not quite what I meant however, there is Intel's Universal Communicators

5. Future Technology - The Cure

For you name it.

Check out - Curing Brain Diseases by Growing New Cells?

6. Future Technology - Fountain of Youth

As a woman I consider this as a no-brainer desire for future technology. The "Fountain of Youth" was a legendary spring that renders anyone who drinks of its waters permanently young. What is the real future technology that will extend our lives and keep us looking youthful without surgery?

Check out - Scientists discover cellular 'fountain of youth' and Anti-Aging Medicine or Longevity and Anti-Aging Medicine.

7. Future Technology - Protective Force Field

To shield me from the sticks and stones.

Check out - A Force Field for Astronauts?

8. Future Technology - Flying Cars

I want a smooth ride all the way and I hope it's a convertible.

Check out - The Skycar, How Flying Cars Will Work, Flying Cars Ready To Take Off, Flying car more economical than SUV, or Retrofuture.

9. Future Technology - The Battery Operated Butler Did It

What can I say - housework sucks.

Check out - Robotics and Robots

10. Future Technology - The Time Machine

I have a few famous inventors I would love to meet in person and the idea of messing with the time-space continuum is exciting as well.

The Art of War

Sun Tzu's The Art of War is the most famous work on military operations in ancient China. Being the oldest military treatise in the world, it is one of the greatest cultural legacies of the Chinese nation. Only the Prussian Clausewitz's On War may compare with it. But On War (Von Kriege) was written more than 2,000 years later. Therefore, Sun Tzu's The Art of War is a classic on military operations and the most influential in the world today.

In this well-known book, Sun Tzu puts forward many important principles in military operations. He says, "winning a victory and subduing the enemy without fighting is the highest excellence." War is not for slaughter; if you win without fighting, the way you can do so is the greatest military strategy, Sun Tzu in his book stresses, "To attack where the enemy is unprepared and hit when it is unexpected" is another wise observation." Military operations should aim at speedy victory and not prolonged campaigns." "Know both the enemy and yourself, you will fight a hundred battles without danger of defeat." All these principles are, unquestionably, significant even in military strategies in the world today.

The thirteen military essays in The Art of War form a systematic military work. Each essay discusses one problem, but thirteen essays constitute an organic whole, which can never be taken separately.

The Art of War actually discusses how to win, which is not limited to military operations. Its significance has been enlarged to many fields, such as commercial affairs, management, athletic competitions, etc. Everyone who reads it carefully may acquire the key to victory.

The Art of War

Preliminary Calculations

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7

Part 1

Sun Tzu said: What is war? It may be described as one of the most important affairs to the state. It is the ground* of death or life of both soldiers and people, and the way* that governs the survival or the ruin of the state. So we must deliberately examine and study it.

*ground: battlefield.
*way: in ancient Chinese language 'way' means law, principle, or reason.

Part 2

Therefore we should analyse and compare the conditions of ourselves and an enemy from five factors in order to forecast if we will win before the beginning of war. The five factors are as follows: the first is way; the second, heaven; the third, earth; the fourth, generals or commanders, and the firth, law.

What is the way? The way may make the people in complete accord with their ruler in their goals and cause them to share weal and woe fearlessly during the war. What is the heaven? The heaven means day and night, cold and heat, and the sequence of the seasons.

What is the earth? The earth signifies whether the battleground is distant or near, whether the terrain is strategically difficult or secure, vast or narrow, and whether conditions are favourable or unfavourable to the chance of survival.

What is the general or commander? The general or commander may be one who is a high ranking military officer with five virtues: intelligence, trustworthiness, benevolence, courage, and sternness.

What is the law? The law refers to the military establishment, the assignment of officers at all levels, and the allocation and use of military supplies.

Part 3

Whoever leads soldiers to fight must be familiar with the above-mentioned five factors. Only he who thoroughly understands them can win victory. If he is not well versed in these, he may be defeated. Therefore, in order to analyse and compare the conditions of the opposing sides according to a scheme to determine whether our side will win or not, the following questions should be asked:

Which ruler is the one who is popular with the people?

Which general is the one who has ability?

Which side has the more favourable climate and the advantageous terrain?

Whose discipline is more effective?

Which side possesses military superiority?

Which side has soldiers and officers that are better trained?

Whose system of rewards and punishments is fairer and clearer?

We may forecast the outcome of a battle if we have a careful consideration of them.

Part 4

The general who adopts my schemes or stratagems will surely win while commanding at the front, and will surely retain his general's position. If he does not adopt my advice, he will certainly suffer defeat at the front, and will not keep his post.

Part 5

The general, having paid attention to my useful schemes or stratagems, must establish his force which will help him realize his plan. What is force? It means that a general should formulate his tactics according to what is expedient.

Part 6

Any military operation takes deception as its basic quality. A commander who is competent should pretend to be incompetent, he who is ready to use military force should pretend to delay his action; he whose troops draw near the enemy should make it seem as if his troops were still far away; and he whose troops are far away from the enemy should let the enemy believe he is drawing near. A good commander must offer a bait to allure the enemy who covets small advantages, capture the enemy when he is in disorder, take precautions against the enemy who has good preparation and substantial strength, evade for a time the enemy while he is strong, enrage the enemy who is hot-tempered, pretend to be weak in order to make the enemy arrogant or haughty, wear the enemy out if he has taken a good rest, set one party against another within the enemy if they are united. A commander must understand how to attack where the enemy is unprepared, and hit when it is unexpected. All the above-mentioned is the key to military victory, but it is never possible to formulate a fixed plan beforehand.

Part 7

It gives a general greater advantage to win to make military decisions in the temple* even before fighting a battle, and less advantage if he makes no military decision in the temple before doing battle. He who plans and prepares carefully will find himself in a favourable position and win victory; he who does so carelessly will find himself in an unfavourable position and win no victory. How much worse off it is for those who do not prepare carefully at all. In this way, we can see clearly who may win and who may lose. *make military decision in the temple: doing battle is a matter of vital importance to the nation , the generals must hold a ceremony for military actions and forecasting the outcome of war.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Data Matrix

Data Matrix

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(Redirected from Datamatrix)
An example of a Data Matrix code, encoding the text: "Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia"
An example of a Data Matrix code, encoding the text: "Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia"

A Data Matrix code is a two-dimensional matrix barcode consisting of black and white square modules arranged in either a square or rectangular pattern. The information to be encoded can be text or raw data. Usual data size is from a few bytes up to 2 kilobytes. The length of the encoded data depends on the symbol dimension used. Error correction codes are added to increase symbol strength: even if they are partially damaged, they can still be read. A Data Matrix symbol can store up to 2,335 alphanumeric characters.

Data Matrix symbols are square and made of cells, that is little squares that represent bits. Depending on the situation a white module is a 0 and a black module is a 1, or vice versa. Every Data Matrix is composed of at least two finder patterns or handles and two syncs. Handles are two perpendicular lines, coloured the same way as 1 modules, while syncs are like handles with the difference that they are made of alternating black and white modules. Handles achieve a good alignment with the symbol, while syncs sample modules correctly. If the matrix dimension grows, more syncs and handles are added up to 8 both horizontally and vertically. Symbol sizes vary from 8×8 to 144×144.


Four symbols
Four symbols

The most popular application for Data Matrix is marking small items, due to the code’s ability to encode fifty characters in a symbol that is readable at 2 or 3 mm2 and the fact that the code can be read with only a 20% contrast ratio.

The Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) recommends using Data Matrix for labeling small electronic components[1].

Data Matrix codes are part of a new traceability drive in many industries, particularly aerospace where quality control is tight and a black market exists for counterfeit or non-servicable parts. Data Matrix codes (and accompanying alpha-numeric data) identify details of the component, including manufacturer ID, part number and a unique serial number. The United States Department of Defense aims to have all components of every new aircraft identified by Data Matrix codes within a tight deadline.[citation needed]

Technical Specifications

Data Matrix symbols are made up of square modules arranged within a perimeter finder pattern. It can encode up to 3,116 characters from the entire ASCII character set (with extensions). The symbol consists of data regions which contain square modules set out in a regular array. Large symbols contain several regions. Each data region is delimited by a finder pattern, and this is surrounded on all four sides by a quiet zone border (margin).

Symbols have an even number of rows and an even number of columns. Most of the symbols are square with sizes from 10×10 to 144×144. Some symbols however are rectangular with sizes from 8×18 to 16×48. All symbols can be recognized by the upper right corner module being light (binary 0).

ECC200 is the newest version of Data Matrix and supports advanced encoding error checking and correction algorithms (such as Reed-Solomon). This algorithm allows the recognition of barcodes that are up to 60% damaged.

Data Matrix applications

A data matrix on a Mini PCI card, encoding the serial number
A data matrix on a Mini PCI card, encoding the serial number

Data Matrix codes are becoming common on printed media such as labels and letters. The code can be read quickly by a scanner which allows the media to be tracked, for example when a parcel has been dispatched to the recipient.

For industrial engineering purposes, Data Matrix codes can be marked directly onto components, ensuring that only the intended component is identified with the Data Matrix encoded data. The codes can be marked onto components with various methods, but within the aerospace industry these are commonly industrial ink-jet, dot-pen marking, laser marking, and electrolytic chemical etching (ECE). These methods give a permanent mark which should last the lifetime of the component.

After creation of the Data Matrix code, the code is usually verified using specialist camera equipment and software. This verification ensures the code conforms to the relevant standards, and ensures it will be readable for the lifetime of the component. After the component enters service, the Data Matrix code can then be read by a reader camera, which decodes the Data Matrix data which can then be used for a number of purposes, such as movement tracking or inventory stock checks.


Data Matrix was invented by RVSI/Acuity CiMatrix [1], who was acquired by Siemens AG in October, 2005. Datamatrix is covered today by an ISO standard, ISO/IEC16022—International Symbology Specification, Data Matrix, and is in the public domain, which means it can be used free of any licensing or royalties.

  • ISO/IEC 15418:1999 – Symbol Data Format Semantics
  • ISO/IEC 15434:1999 – Symbol Data Format Syntax
  • ISO/IEC 15415 – 2-D Print Quality Standard

Object hyperlinking

Object hyperlinking

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Object hyperlinking is a neologism that refers to extending the Internet to objects and locations in the real world. The current Internet does not extend beyond the electronic world. Object hyperlinking aims to extend the internet to the real world by attaching tags with URLs to tangible objects or locations. These tags can then be read by a wireless mobile device and information about objects and locations retrieved and displayed.

System components

Linking an object or a location to the internet is a more involved process than linking two web pages. An object hyperlinking system requires seven components -

Components of an object hyperlinking scheme
Components of an object hyperlinking scheme
  1. A physical or virtual tag to identify objects and locations. Some tagging systems are described below. To allow the smaller physical tags to be located they must be embedded in visual markers. For example, the Yellow Arrow scheme [see below] prints SMS tags on large adhesive yellow arrows, which can then be stuck on buildings etc.
  2. A means of reading physical tags, or locating virtual tags.
  3. A mobile device such as a mobile telephone, a PDA or a portable computer.
  4. Additional software for the mobile device.
  5. A digital wide area wireless network, such as the existing 2G and 3G networks, for communication between the portable device and the server containing the information linked to the tagged object.
  6. Information on each linked object. This information could be in existing WWW pages, existing databases of price information etc, or have been specially created.
  7. A display to view the information on the linked object. At the present time this is most likely to be the screen of a mobile telephone.

Tags and tag readings systems

There are a number of different competing tagging systems.

RFID tags
A radio frequency identification device (also known as an 'Arphid') is a small transponder which can be read at short range by a transceiver (reader). Since RFID tags can be very small, they are often embedded in a more visible marker to allow them to be located.
A RFID reader can be added to an existing mobile telephone as a shell. Nokia produce such a shell for their 3220 mobile phone. At the moment few mobiles have RFID capability, but this may change, since such RFID enabled mobiles may be used for cashless payments and other purposes.
From 2005 travelers in the city of Hanau, near Frankfurt, Germany will be able to pay for bus tickets by passing their Nokia phones over a smartcard reader installed on the buses. Other applications for RFID enabled mobiles include swapping electronic business cards between phones, and using a mobile to check in at an airport or hotel. Two RFID enabled devices may also be used to enable peer-to-peer transfer of data such as music, images or for synchronizing address books.
QR Code for "An internet of things"
QR Code for "An internet of things"
Graphical tags
A graphical tag consists of an image on a marker, which can be read by a mobile telephone camera. There are a number of competing systems, including open standards like Quick Response QR Codes, Datamatrix, Semacodes[1] (based on Datamatrix), and barcodes; or proprietary systems like ShotCodes. The design of such coding schemes needs to be rich enough to include lots of information and robust enough for the tag to be readable, even when partly obscured or damaged: tags might be on the outside of buildings and exposed to wear and the weather.
Graphical tags have a number of advantages. They are easy to understand and cheap to produce. They can also be printed on almost anything, including t-shirts. Barcodes are a particularly attractive form of tagging because they are already very widely used, and camera phones can easily read them.
SMS tags
An SMS tag comprises a short alphanumerical code, which can be printed on a marker or chalked on a wall. The Short Message Service is then used to send the code and return a message. Yellow arrows[2] are an example of this form of tagging.
Virtual tags
In a virtual tagging system there is no physical tag at a location. Instead a URL is associated with a set of geographical coordinates. When a GPS equipped mobile phone enters a particular area the phone can be used to retrieve all URLs associated with that area. The area can be set as a few metres or a much wider area. At the moment few mobiles are GPS enabled and GPS is not accurate in urban areas. The accuracy of GPS may improve when the European Union Galileo positioning system becomes operational.
Text-based linking uses the objects natural name or part number. It does require that the user phone be Internet enabled, but it does not require the upload of any software or the need to affix a barcode to the subject object. The name or number of the target object is entered into a cell phone browser pointed at the defined Web portal, such as Yellow arrow and, retrieving pre-configured database files.

Applications for object hyperlinking

The object hyperlinking systems described above will make it possible to link comprehensive and editable information to any object or location. How this capability can best be used remains to be seen. What has emerged so far is a mixture of social and commercial applications.

  • The publishers of the Lonely Planet guidebooks are issuing yellow arrows, with one of their guidebooks and encouraging travellers to leave tags to stories and comments wherever they go.
  • Siemens see their virtual tagging system being used to tag tourist sites, and also leave messages for friends. They also suggest that virtual tags could be used to link advertisements with locations. Geominder also offer a virtual tagging service.
  • Nokia have demonstrated that when a 3220 phone with the RFID shell attached is tapped against an RFID-enabled advertisement, a URL can be read and information about the advertised product or service returned to the phone.
  • Japanese consumers are able to read barcodes with their mobiles and download comparative prices from Amazon.
Using Semapedia to link from a tag to a Wikipedia article
Using Semapedia to link from a tag to a Wikipedia article
  • Semapedia have created a system for linking physical objects and Wikipedia articles using the Semacode tagging scheme. Graphical tags can be created that link to the URLs of individual Wikipedia articles. These tags can then be attached to the physical objects mentioned in the Wikipedia articles. Reading a tag with a camera phone will then retrieve an article from Wikipedia and display it on the phone screen. This creates the Mobile Wikipedia advocated by Mobile Weblog and Eclectica.
  • An alternative to using 2d barcodes is to apply computer vision techniques to identify more complex patterns and images. Companies like Daem, kooaba or Neven Vision develop image recognition platforms to turn any image into object hyperlinks.
  • NeoMedia Technologies offers a complete system for linking physical objects to the electronic world. The NeoReader code scanning software transforms mobile phones into universal 2D code readers and provides one-click access to mobile content. It provides interoperability among 2D codes (it reads Data Matrix, QR Code, Aztec Code, EAN/UPC Barcode, and Code 128) and operates on a variety of handsets. By scanning a 2D code from a product package, advertisement, publication, or any other medium, mobile users are able to link directly to a specific web page, even to pages deep within Web sites - bypassing long URLs, search engines and avoiding cumbersome menus.
  • Microsoft have developed a system for creating hyperlinks using image matching.

Toward a Global "Internet of Things"


Toward a Global "Internet of Things"

By Steve Meloan, November 11, 2003
In the early 1990s, a small news item in Wired magazine described an obscure software product developed out of the University of Illinois. The application was called Mosaic, and it soon proved to be the "killer app" of the Internet. Within a matter of several years, an entire industry had been built around it and its successors. Mosaic was not the first application of its type, but it delivered a new paradigm of usability to the previously arcane task of "browsing" hypertext links.

Another potentially industry-defining technology recently emerged at the inaugural EPC (Electronic Product Code) Symposium, held September 15-17 in Chicago's McCormick Place The gathering marked the official launch of the Electronic Product Code Network, an open technology infrastructure developed by a global consortium of companies and researchers.

The EPC network, using tiny RFID (Radio Frequency ID) tags, will enable computers to automatically recognize and identify everyday objects, and then track, trace, monitor, trigger events, and perform actions on those objects. The technology will effectively create an "Internet of things." RFID will fundamentally impact the industries of manufacturing, retail, transportation, health care, life sciences, pharmaceuticals, and government, offering an unprecedented real-time view of assets and inventories throughout the global supply chain. And in the process, whole new vistas (and challenges) will open up to software developers.

Evolution or Revolution?
Most industry observers agree that the next wave of growth in the technology sector will be outside the realm of the traditional PC desktop. But many think of that growth in mundane terms -- with such things as cell phones and PDAs. In reality, we stand on the verge of an era that will see previously unimagined networked devices and objects. There are already some exciting applications that span the technology spectrum. offers a Java applet-driven virtual dashboard that displays real-time wireless telemetry from cars during a race -- registering location, speed, RPM, braking, and more. The race cars have effectively become networked devices. Meanwhile, NASA, with the assistance of GE Medical, is now able to monitor real-time medical data (such as blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate) from its Space Shuttle astronauts. Even trees are on the network. Fifty battery powered "micromote" sensors now dangle from UC Berkeley's Mather Redwood Grove, part of a pilot program to monitor the health of groves of redwoods. The sensors register light, moisture, and temperature, enabling scientists to continuously monitor the microclimates surrounding given trees.

Such diverse networked "devices" offer concrete evidence of Metcalfe's Law. Robert Metcalfe, one of the developers of Ethernet, formulated that the usefulness of a network increases by the square of the number of nodes (users or devices) connected to the network. (Imagine how useful the telephone system would be if there were only two phones in the world!)

"In the future, everything of value will be on the network in one form of another," says John Fowler, Software CTO of Sun Microsystems. "And once they're on the network, we can aggregate data from those diverse devices, and then deliver that data to equally diverse devices -- in informative and compelling ways." And that's exactly what we're seeing today. "Most people think of a PC or a PDA as things connected to the network," continues Fowler. "But here we are connecting trees, race cars, and astronauts to the network. It's going to become a much more seamless spectrum."

More about RFID
With the official release of the Electronic Product Code Network, we are about to see the "Internet of things" paradigm enter the big time -- the world of mainstream commerce.

Looking at the big picture, the term Auto-ID refers to any broad class of identification technologies used in the world of commerce to automate, reduce errors, and increase efficiency. These technologies include bar codes, smart cards, sensors, voice recognition, and biometrics.

But the Auto-ID technology currently on center stage is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). RFID is a generic technology that entails using tiny wireless transmitters to tag individual objects, uniquely identifying them. Such RFID tags allow companies to automatically track objects, trigger events, and perform actions upon the objects.

RFID chips have now been made as small as 0.3 millimeters (about the size of a pencil tip). There are a variety of different types -- active (battery-driven), semi-passive (also battery-driven), and passive (driven by the inductive energy of a tag reader). Each has different advantages, disadvantages, and features.

Figure 1: An Ant Playing with RFID Chips
Figure 1: An Ant Playing with RFID Chips
Figure 2: Passive RFID Tag Architecture
Figure 2: Passive RFID Tag Architecture
Figure 3: RFID Tag Types
Figure 3: RFID Tag Types
RFID transponder (transmitter/responder) technologies have long been in operation -- from the key card entry systems used in many corporate settings, to wireless toll booth payment facilities. Such passive RFID tags typically have a range of only several feet; the electromagnetic field emitted by the reader induces a current in the tag/card, causing it to transmit a low-energy wireless response.

But such technologies have previously been proprietary in nature, lacking in standards. In order to provide a truly useful "Internet of things," it's necessary to ensure open standards and global interoperability.

The Auto-ID Center
The Auto-ID Center, founded in 1999, is a non-profit, global research organization, partnered with 103 companies and institutions (representing combined annual revenues of over $1.5 trillion, and hundreds of billions of goods). The center is headquartered at MIT, with sister labs at the University of Cambridge in England, Adelaide University in Australia, Keio University in Japan, Fudan University in China, and St. Gallen University in Switzerland.

The founding sponsors of the center -- the Uniform Code Council (UCC), EAN International, Gillette, and Proctor & Gamble -- began with the vision of a world where computers could identify any object, anywhere, instantly. The member companies in the Auto-ID Center now include such major corporations as Coca-Cola, Gillette, Home Depot, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, Lowes, PepsiCo, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Sara Lee, Target, Unilever, UPS, and Wal-Mart.

But to realize the Auto-ID Center's vision, it's first necessary to define, build, test, and deploy a global, open infrastructure on top of the Internet. This includes affordable hardware, network and software protocols, and development languages. Sun Microsystems -- with its twenty-year commitment to secure, open, networked, scalable, cross-platform technologies -- is uniquely qualified to play a major role in the Auto-ID Center's work. Since 2000, Sun has chaired the Technology Board and the Software Action Group at the Center.

The Auto-ID Center's two major goals have been to lower the cost of the RFID tags and readers, and define the technology infrastructure necessary to effectively employ them in a global, industry-wide EPC network.

EPC Code: Improving on UPC
At the core of the Auto-ID Center's just-released infrastructure for RFID technology is the EPC code, the numeric data transmitted by a tag. The EPC code is, in effect, intended to be the next generation of the Universal Product Code (UPC), or bar code, that is found on virtually every consumer item today. But unlike the UPC, the EPC is designed to operate not only without "line of sight" (that is, wirelessly), but to uniquely identify each individual object.

To foster the widespread use and interoperability of RFID technology, particularly at the level of tagging individual products and packages, cost reduction is of the essence. Tag prices are currently $.20 apiece, but are expected to drop to $.05 apiece. Readers are currently at $2000-$3000, but are expected to drop to $100. Open standards, global adoption, and multi-vendor competition will serve to bring about such competitive pricing.

With cost consciousness in mind, the Auto-ID Center has defined several different versions of the EPC spec -- 64 bits, 96 bits, and 256 bits. The diagram below details the 96-bit spec, which provides unique identifiers for 268 million companies. Each company can have up to 16 million distinct object classes, with 68 billion serial numbers within each object class.

Figure 4: 96-bit EPC Layout
Figure 4: 96-bit EPC Layout

Unlike a UPC bar code, EPC provides for the unique identification of any physical object in the world:

  • The header (8 bits) specifies the EPC's version number.
  • The EPC manager field (28 bits) provides the name of the enterprise (typically the manufacturer).
  • The object class field (24 bits) specifies the class of product (typically the stock keeping unit (SKU).
  • The serial number field (36 bits) uniquely identifies the individual item.
The Wal-Mart Effect
New technologies come and go; many never quite achieve popular traction. But RFID and EPC are likely to be different. Just a glance at the A-list companies that are partnered with the Auto-ID Center will give you an idea of how broad the interest is in these exciting new technologies. And one need only look back at past technologies to see the catalyzing effect of having major enterprises adopt them. The original patent for bar codes was issued in 1952. It then took twenty years for a standard to be approved; in 1982, only 15,000 suppliers were using bar codes. But by 1987, there were 75,000 suppliers using bar codes. What changed during those few years? Here's what: in 1984, Wal-Mart, the country's largest retailer, began using the technology.

Now, fast-forward to the present. Wal-Mart recently notified its top 100 suppliers that they must install RFID tags (for inventory tracking) on all cases and pallets of their products by January 1, 2005. And the remaining 12,000 suppliers are expected to follow suit by 2006. When Wal-Mart speaks, the retail industry listens. Clearly, RFID is a technology whose time has come.

Drilling Down

The core standards and technologies currently defined by the Auto-ID Center and its partners include:

  • EPC
  • RFID tags
  • Tag readers
  • Savant servers
  • Object Naming Service (ONS)
  • Product Markup Language (PML)
  • EPC Information Service (EPC IS)
Object Naming Service
Modeled after the Internet Domain Name System (DNS), the Object Naming Service (ONS) effectively matches the RFID tag to information about the tagged object -- by mapping the EPC number code (via IP address) to its associated information on a PML server.

Figure 5: EPC Network Summary
Figure 5: EPC Network Summary
Product Markup Language
Product Markup Language (PML) is XML-based, and intended as a universal standard for describing physical objects in the EPC network. PML is used to store such information as product composition, lot number, date of manufacture, proper usage, proper storage, and more. Using the information stored via PML and the EPC network infrastructure, a retailer can update information as it moves through the supply chain, set triggers to lower prices as expiration dates near, recall products, and so forth.

The Auto-ID Center's PML specification consists of PML Core and PML Extensions. PML Core is used to describe data directly generated by the EPC network infrastructure (such as RFID readers and temperature sensors). The PML Extensions are used to describe product and process-related information (expiration dates, shipping information, and so on.).

Figure 6: PML Core Auto-ID Sensor Data
Figure 6: PML Core Auto-ID Sensor Data
As its name implies, the Savant element in the EPC infrastructure performs a particular function -- and does it extremely well. With the sheer volume of data likely to be seen in some commercial settings, where an RFID reader may detect a hundred EPCs per second, the data challenges border on those found in processing telemetry. Thus, there has to be a filtering layer between the tag readers and the enterprise network.

The Savant sits at the leading edge of the EPC network, providing reader adapters (to accommodate different hardware providers), as well as functionality for smoothing data, correcting duplicate reads, providing business processing rules, and forwarding data up and down the infrastructure.

Figure 7: EPC Savant Architecture
Figure 7: EPC Savant Architecture
The current Savant specification defines the Reader Interface, Processing Modules, and the Application Interface. The Reader Interface specifies the interaction between the Savant and various reader devices, principally RFID tag readers. Processing Modules provide specific sets of features, which may be combined by the user to meet the needs of his/her application. The Savant itself is a container for Processing Modules. Processing Modules may interact with one another through APIs that they define. The Application Interface provides the connection to external applications -- existing enterprise applications, new EPC-specific applications, and even other Savants.

Sun Technology
As the company that recognizes "The Network is the Computer," Sun Microsystems is uniquely positioned to take a leading role in the Auto-ID revolution. In an "Internet of things," Sun's core strengths of security, scalability, and cross-platform compatibility between diverse networked systems have never been more essential. With J2EE, J2SE, J2ME, and JavaCard, Sun offers a complete spectrum of cross-platform computing environments, all the way down to the microchip.

On September 16, 2003, at the EPC Symposium in Chicago, Sun announced its newly formed enterprise Auto-ID initiative. Julie Sarbacker is the director of the company's new Auto-ID Business Unit, which will work aggressively with customers and partners to develop and deliver standards-based Auto-ID/EPC solutions. This best-of-breed list of Auto-ID partners already includes Alien Technology, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, ConecTerra, Gorilla Logic, Manhattan Associates, Provia Software, ThingMagic, Tyco Sensormatic, VeriSign, and Xterprise.

Sun's proposed Auto-ID solution architecture includes the Sun EPC Information Server (essentially the Sun ONE Integration Server and Auto-ID specific application components), and Sun EPC Event Manager (Savant), which are in development, and scheduled for release in 2004.

Figure 8: Sun's Proposed EPC Infrastructure
Figure 8: Sun's Proposed EPC Infrastructure
Critical Mass
The use of RFID in industry appears to be reaching critical mass. In addition to Wal-Mart's planned implementation of RFID by 2005, Gillette has reportedly purchased 500,000 RFID tags. With them, they hope to reduce out-of-stock items, cut labor costs, and reduce theft and counterfeiting. Proctor & Gamble's CIO, Steve David, has stated that the company expects to save $1.5 billion annually in supply-chain costs through the use of Auto-ID. Michelin, which manufactures 800,000 tires a day, is considering putting RFID tags in each of its tires. Delta Airlines is testing RFID on certain flights, tagging 40,000 customer bags to reduce loss and make routing more efficient. The U.S. military has placed tags on 270,000 cargo containers and trucks, tracking shipments through 40 countries. And just this month, the United States Acting Under-Secretary of Defense, Michael W. Wynne, spelled out an ambitious plan (a la Wal-Mart) to require its suppliers to use RFID tags on all shipments to the military by January, 2005. Visa is exploring putting RFID tags in smart cards, so people can conduct transactions without even having to open their wallets. The European Central Bank is even considering embedding RFID tags in individual Euro notes, to help combat counterfeiting and money laundering. With such tags in place, banks could count large amounts of money in a matter of seconds. But it doesn't take a civil libertarian to recognize the potential downside of such tag placement. Not only would the last bastion of anonymous commerce fall by the wayside, but a criminal with the proper technology could conceivably detect how much money a person was carrying.

With such potential problems, there is clearly a need for a secure technology in the Auto-ID space. The individual players and devices within an Auto-ID network must be verified and trusted -- yet the Auto-ID Center's specifications do not address a security technology. But here again, Sun/Java technology is perfectly positioned, having been designed since its inception with networked security in mind.

New Ways of Thinking
To meet the needs and challenges of the burgeoning "Internet of things," developers will need to change their notions about what a networked device is -- and how it can be used to provide compelling and profitable services. In short, it's time to think outside of the PC/handheld box.

Sun's John Fowler quantifies this evolution in terms of two "megatrends." "Megatrend number one, is that reduced costs have brought with them the viability of connecting almost anything to the network," he explains. "And megatrend number two is that this ubiquity of access will make it so that people's notions about what they interact with will change dramatically. As an application developer, you have to sit back and say, if everything is connected to the network, how will that change the way I process information?"

A perfect example of this new way of thinking is found in tagging pharmaceuticals. The obvious use of such tags would be for inventory control. But more forward-thinking developers have already envisioned a hospital application that would tag patients and medications -- making them both implicit devices on the network. An RFID tag reader would detect both objects, allowing the dispensing of that medication only to approved patients.

Scaling will be another major development concern in the Auto-ID space. "In the PC world, there's generally just one device per user," adds Fowler. "But when you're putting tags on every package of pharmaceuticals, and on every pair of blue jeans, you have to think on an entirely different scale. It becomes necessary to map a universe of millions, or even billions, of things into a much smaller network of things that have an IP address."

With some Auto-ID adoption deadlines little more than a year away, the business opportunities are clearly already here. ConnecTerra, a partner company in the Auto-ID Center, is concentrating its development efforts on the Auto-ID space. Believing that in the next decade, tens of billions of autonomous devices and assets will be connected to the network, the company wants to help facilitate this revolution. ConnecTerra provides Java technology-based software infrastructures for what they call the "aware enterprise," allowing companies to connect in real time to distributed devices, and integrating into back-end operations.

"We define an aware enterprise as a business that has a visibility and understanding of what's going on in its overall operating environment," says Dave Douglas, ConnecTerra's founder and CEO. "Enterprise computing is within the four walls of the business. Web computing extends out to people through browsers. But the real untapped opportunity is in providing information about what's going on in stores, warehouses, trucks, and customer sites, and then being able to factor that information into your business decisions."

In addition to developing Auto-ID infrastructure software, ConnecTerra is targeting what they see as the need for "remote services" in the networked device space. "There's already so much smart equipment out there," says Douglas. "In hospitals, doctors and nurses don't necessarily understand the ins and outs of how to debug the equipment they use." As devices like CAT scanners become increasingly networked, there is the opportunity to remotely monitor and maintain such equipment.

And the need for remote services will become all the more imperative as networked devices continue to expand in manufacturing, the supply chain, and retail. "The convenience store of the future will have a smart supply room, smart shelves, smart signs, smart gas pumps, and very smart point-of-sale terminals," says Douglas. "Some of this will be enabled by RFID, but also by sensor technology, wireless networking, and low-cost processing. But in order for this collection of complex devices to deliver reliable business value, it will be imperative to remotely manage and service it from the device manufacturer or the store headquarters. Relying on the store staff for monitoring and upkeep will not be an option."

Looking Forward
In the fast-paced Auto-ID space, new developments take place nearly every month. In September 2003, the Auto-ID Center premiered its version 1.0 specifications. Those standards are now being put through a ratification process, along with a question-and-answer period for center members. There is no firm timeline for this process, but the official specification documents should be released within the next month.

Meanwhile, the Auto-ID Center will soon be passing off its work to a next-generation overseer of the standards work. The original consortium out of MIT led the initial standards-development process, but it was never intended to function as an official standards body. The MIT center helped the member companies and research institutions develop the specifications. But they are not legally authorized, for example, to license and sell unique EPC numbers, or to take over the standards administration and compliance. For this reason, the Auto-ID Center has licensed its technology and specifications to EPCglobal, Inc., a non-profit entity formed by EAN International and the Uniform Code Council (UCC). EPCglobal will be selling the unique numbers, as well as taking over the standards administration and compliance. The group will issue documents and standards, and handle the overall commercialization of these standards as the EPC network enters the big time of mainstream commerce.

The Auto-ID Center web site will provide updates in the coming weeks as to the 1.0 specifications, as well as the work of EPCglobal. In the meantime, the site currently offers a free beta version of the center's Savant software (requiring Red Hat Linux 7.x Intel, PostgreSQL 7.1 and above, JDK 1.4.1 and above, and Tomcat 4.0.3 and above).

The site also offers an online "Auto-ID Calculator," to allow you to gauge the value of Auto-ID to your business (note: plan to allow 20 minutes).

See Also
Auto-ID Center

Sun Auto-ID Site


Auto-ID Center's Savant Software

Auto-ID Center's Online Tool to Calculate the Value to Your Business

Auto-ID Center's Version 1.0 Specifications (soon to be provided)

Uniform Code Council (UCC)

EAN International


EPCglobal FAQ

Sun ONE Application Server

Sun ONE Identity Server

Sun ONE Integration Server


GE Medical Systems Monitoring Astronauts

"Networked" Redwood Trees