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An example of an EPC RFID tag in use at Wal-Mart  (Source: Wal-Mart)
Wal-Mart plans to strong-arm suppliers into using its RFID tagging system

RFID already has a bad rap largely due to the unsavory prospects of human implantation, possibly by employer coercion.  There is a significant public wariness to the technology, which largely stems from these issues, which unfortunately causes people to often overlook its practical business uses.

By using RFID tags during shipping, pallets of goods can easily be located, identified and tracked as they move across the country.  This can lead to great cost savings while enhancing the supply chain.  Such devices operate in either the 433 MHz and 2.4 GHz frequency, and thus pose no more electromagnetic radiation concern to users than the myriad of other wireless signals that surround us in our daily lives.

Wal-Mart adopted RFID early and has since pushed its suppliers to adopt the system, which it feels is revolutionizing its shipping processes.  For three years now the company insisted its suppliers RFID tag shipping pallets for its Wal-Mart retail and Sam's Club warehouse stores.

Now Wal-Mart is using Sam's Club as a proving ground for the new technology, by economically forcing its suppliers to adopt the system.  The new, more forceful, push will begin with Walmart's DeSoto, Texas distribution center that distributes pallets to Sam's Club stores across the southwest.  Starting January 30, all pallets entering the center must be RFID tagged or suppliers will face fines of $2 per untagged pallet.

An RFID tag costs about 20 cents to manufacturer.  Wal-Mart explains that the significantly larger fee is not designed to be punitive, but covers the costs of labor for Wal-Mart having to reprocess and tag the pallets themselves.  The fee allows companies without existing RFID infrastructure to temporarily pay Wal-Mart to deal with this issue, giving the supplier time to adopt RFID logistics.

Sam's Clubs 700-stores accounted for $41.5 billion of Wal-Mart's $344.9 billion in revenues in 2007.  The stores use fewer suppliers than the Wal-Mart retail chain, so the company sees them as an ideal proving ground for the technology.

The system and accompanying fines for non-comformers will be phased in at all 22 Wal-Mart distribution centers over the next three years.


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Not to be paranoid...
By AmpedSilence on 1/18/2008 3:27:49 PM , Rating: 2
But when will it be possible to scan a person's house know exactly what is in the house? Or will these RFID's be "disabled" during checkout?




RE: Not to be paranoid...
By SandmanWN on 1/18/2008 3:36:02 PM , Rating: 2
From what I gather from the article its only by the pallet load not the individual item. So, unless you buy by the pallet, you currently don't have any worries.

Although I would be interested in such a program if it were an opt-in/opt-out service that allowed merchants to send me targeted discounts of some kind.


RE: Not to be paranoid...
By FITCamaro on 1/18/2008 3:51:22 PM , Rating: 3
Yes the RFID tag is on the pallet, not each individual product package on the pallet.


RE: Not to be paranoid...
By FastLaneTX on 1/20/2008 11:55:07 AM , Rating: 2
They're only tagging pallets today. The eventual goal is tagging each individual item, and checkout will amount to passing your cart through a scanner and paying. Grocery stores are hot for the technology too -- anywhere that has long checkout lines.


RE: Not to be paranoid...
By bhieb on 1/18/2008 5:45:18 PM , Rating: 2
I can see the new must have LF refrigerator now. TV plus automatic ordering.


RE: Not to be paranoid...
By robertgu2k on 1/18/2008 6:05:11 PM , Rating: 5
We are one of the vendors complying with Wal-mart’s RFID initiatives. The RFID tags only contain a glorified serial number.

Currently we're only tagging shipping cartons and pallets, but if in the future they start tagging each individual item (which is what the industry wants to get to as the RFID tag costs drops) the only thing the nefarious person would get by scanning those tags would be that string of numbers.

Without the database (in this case ours or Wal-mart’s) linking each of the tag’s numbers to the actual useful information you would never know what that person has.


RE: Not to be paranoid...
By PandaBear on 1/20/2008 2:31:16 PM , Rating: 2
So would that means if someone visit your home with an RFID scanner, he/she would be able to find your hidden copy of "Debby does Dallas" under the couch?


RE: Not to be paranoid...
By rfidguy on 1/19/2008 12:49:18 PM , Rating: 2
A short answer is yes and yes.

All ePC tags (as RFID tags are known that are widely used) have to have a mark on them that indicate it is being used. A point-of-sale systems (e.g. cash register) would certainly have the ability to destroy/disable the tag. Worst case, you can peal off the label and cut it in half with scissors to disable it yourself.

However, even if it were possible to read your entire house, the person ascertaining that data would only be getting a bit array that would have to have a very large database of logic behind it to figure out what you have. Today, it is impossible. To use an example, let's say you buy a high-end computer that has an ePC tag on it and there is someone that is out in your neighborhood looking for this type of computer. For this theif to find what you have he must have: a very power RFID reader and antenna, software that will pull data from the reader, a database that would have the company code, product code, specific company-issued serial numbers for the product. So, today to be able to read what you have in your house, you must be someone that has access to the ePC-related data associated with the product in question, must be RFID and IT-savvy enough to read the ePC tags in your house and must be a criminal.

Privacy concerns are real, and I encourage folks to keep up the questions, but in reality, there are checks in balances in place to keep you out of harm's way. The key right now is education to suppliers that are applying the tags to use the appropriate safeguards and education to the general public.

What concerns are there out there today around privacy aside from reading ePC tags in your house?


RE: Not to be paranoid...
By PandaBear on 1/20/2008 2:33:34 PM , Rating: 2
That my friend would know where I hide all my adult DVDs.


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