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Both types can be either very simple giving little more information that a standard
barcode or more sophisticated with built in memory and a degree of on board
processing including sensors to measure temperature, pressure or other variables. As
the technology develops and matures we can expect to see greater intelligence,
processing ability and memory built into chips as standard.

So where does this take us? It would be tempting just to see the RFID chip as a
clever form of improved, fancy bar code, something that replaces the printed barcode
we have today. Indeed, stores like Walmart and Tesco are already running smart shelf
trials with RFID in some stores. But that would miss the point.

Just as the bar code rapidly found use in areas outside that for which they were first
developed so RFID chips will do the same. However, barcodes were truly a passive
technology whereas RFID is not. In the near future we could see smart packaging that
can sense how fresh food is and warn us if it is no longer good to eat, packaging that
tells the microwave oven how it should be cooked and maybe advises us on how the
packaging should be recycled. We might even have smart clothes that warn us if we
try washing them on the wrong setting.

In Japan, consumers are trialing mobile phones with built in RFID readers that tell them
about products that the phone is held close to. Tyre manufacturer Michelin is testing
tyres with RFID built in. Imagine if all RFID chips were given a unique IP address and
could link seamlessly to a high speed net. What possibilities does that open up? It will
happen so we had better be ready for it.


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