Thursday, 25 September 2008

Your shirt has just signed in

I have this bad habit of loosing my keys in my room. That's pretty much an achievement by itself, considering the size of my, small, ridiculously overpriced, awkward looking, room. I am not writing about the housing market in London (and the UK in general, which is in freefall - which counterintuitively is raising rent prices even more) as I will leave this for another round of (bitching) analysis. It's just about my keys being lost and wishing if there was such a way that I could locate the whereabouts of my keys through my phone for example (loosing my phone would be ridiculous of me - I can call it from my blackberry to locate it in my casa - again London housing market sarcasm left for later).

Anyway, this all got me thinking. This actually can be done! All I need is to have a key chain with and RFID chip inside it, and a server or some piece of software that can track it. Cool stuff. Well, RFIDs (Radio Frequency Identification) are miniature computer chips that emmit a radio frequency, that can be picked up by a receiver. These chips, now being massively produced, can be fitted unto anything: clothes, bags, cars, hairdryers, books, dogs, cats, squirrels, and of course, humans! Using a simple client-server application, you can track that radio frequencey from any basic computer device. And that can be done, of course....remotely.

This, my friend, is the internet of things.

Take a look around you. Your sitting on a desk, on a couch, in a living room, or in an office - even in a cafe somewhere (except,if you are in the jungle - if your a geek with internet access in the jungle - you got a problem. Reading blogs isn't exactly why you should be doing in a jungle). Anyway, you got things around you : tables, pens, papers, coffee cups, chairs, desks, couches etc. Imagine, that each one of these objects had an RFID chip in them. From this same computer (I am hoping your using firefox- go open source!)- you can just have one tab on your browser for this blog page, and a second one, has a list of all the things you'd like to keep track of. That might be pretty handy: you can locate your keys in a second, you can find your glasses, a book in a library- you can even get the exact position of your coffee mug inside the dishwasher, or your shirt in the cupboard......

This sounds a bit absurd and useless, true. Finding your keys maybe, handy, but why would I be interested in knowing the exact location of my shirt in the cupboard or my mug in the dishwasher. Yes, well, that may fall into useless inventions at first, but well, can become very important for example when you have a supply-chain management business, or, goods delivery company, or anything of the sort. You can virtually guarrantee zero loss of items from production to consumer - and you can track each and every item, at any point in time. Just like Malcolm Mclean , the who invented containers, revolutionized business, so can this - it has the potential to become a disruptive technology.

Some companies already use RFIDs, except they are not fully commercialized. Not only that, that there is still a larger unserviced market to write commercial-level software for these RFIDs, before it reaches the layman, i.e. us. I know that some airports are starting to put RFID tags on luggage in airports, except these are removed before the luggage reaches the passengers on arrival. A niche opportunity for some tech savy entrepreneur, would be to commercialize luggage RFIDs: When you buy your bag, you get a CD with it, that has a software that allows you to track where your bag is , at all time. Now, that would make the Heathrow Terminal 5 saga a very distant bad memory! You just cut out the middle man! Now, if I had the opportunity to entertain such an entrepreunerial opportunity, I would go the full nine yards, and reach the point, that, well, all you need to do when you buy your ticket, is provide your bag RFIDs as well. Once you are at the airport, you just dump your bags wherever, and the rest, through a piece of software on some tag reading device, all bags go to the right places, and maybe be creative in some optimizing pigeon hole algorithm for sorting luggage. When you arrive, you just take out your mobile, click a button, and bang! You know exactly where is your bag, and you can just go for a coffe and the bag will page you when its out from luggage handling. Now that, would be cool!

Although, I'd really like to see the day when my shirt is on my IM - "your shirt has just signed in"......

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