There’s a lot of tagging going on these days.
Wal-Mart, for example, is requiring all suppliers to tag their
products so they can be identified easily and moved through their
warehouses, and we’ve all bought items tagged with theft-alarm
devices that have to be removed.
Tagging today has a new set of initials RFID, which stands for
Radio Frequency Identification. What makes RFID so attractive is
that it can be amazingly miniaturized. Some developers, in fact,
are working on developing digital “dust,” or particle-sized
microchips. Holding lots of information, these micro-micro chips
could be sprinkled in boxes or bags and be read merely by passing
relatively near an RFID scanner some of which have a range of more
than 90 feet.
So how can RFID impact the meetings industry? A badge embedded
with an RFID chip could carry quite a bit of data about an
attendee, including his or her interests, purchasing desires,
meeting profiles and continuing education requirements. Such a
badge also could streamline exhibitor lead retrieval and session
attendance tracking, or locate an attendee on the show floor or in
Several lead-retrieval and on-site registration companies have
enhanced their latest versions of smartcards with RFID chips for a
number of reasons: The technology is more affordable than that of
traditional smartcards; its memory is easily erased and can be
reprogrammed; it stores more data; it takes up less space, and it
transfers its information by radio waves rather than a swipe-card
unit. Attendees just pass within range of a reader, and their facts
are transmitted to the file server no need to hand over a card or
aim a bar-code reader at a badge.
One company, New York City-based nTAG (www.ntag.com), has even
converted an RFID badge into a mini-PDA with multiple uses.
Aside from permitting normal attendance tracking, nTags also
can enhance personal networking at meetings. When two nTAG wearers
approach each other, their RFID chips scan for any common interests
and/or possible matches of buyer to vendor. This, and other
information, is displayed on the badge’s monochrome screen.
Along with “Hi, My name is Tom,” the card might also read, “We
have two things in common.” Push one of three buttons on the badge
and those common items appear on screen. If they want, the two can
then exchange electronic business cards. Tom could even use the
screen to enter a note (using standard and custom menu-driven
options on the screen), to be collected by the next RFID reader he
approaches and stored on the main file server.
NTAG also can set up web pages for each attendee that store the
information their badges have gathered. Attendees can go to the
sites to review their new contacts, perform follow-up activities
and off-load information.
The only shortcoming I can see in this system, at present, is
the size of the badge; the screen and the hardware required make it
Looming large over the technical question, however, is the issue of
privacy. Because of the power of the chip and the readers, it is
possible to track attendees anywhere in the venue without their
knowledge even, depending on the facility, to their rooms.
Like cell phones, RFID chips are always transmitting, looking
for a reading device. Given physical proximity to the show, an
unscrupulous person with an RFID reader could locate people and
generally pirate any of the information scanned.
With that vulnerability in mind, RFID chips now under
development are designed to go to sleep unless awakened by a secure
signal, prompting them to off-load or acquire additional data.