Product Tracking – 2004 AD

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Product Tracking

Sanjay Sarma (b. 1968), Kevin Ashton (b. 1968), David Brock (b. 1961)

“The Universal Product Code (UPC) revolutionized retail sales in the 1970s and ’80s. A 12-digit code that could be represented as a string of numbers or a barcode, the UPC gave every kind of item that a consumer could purchase a unique 6-digit manufacturer code and a 6-digit product code. Printed on consumer packages, these codes made it possible for retailers to deploy checkout scanners, which decreased errors, sped checkouts, gave retailers better inventory management, and generally helped to lower the cost of consumer goods.

The next phase in automation was to extend this kind of information awareness all the way back through the supply chain. An Electronic Product Code (EPC), readable by radio, would make it possible to track every object from its point of manufacture through shipping and distribution, and finally to the consumer’s house. Tags put on pharmaceuticals would help to stamp out both product duplication and counterfeiting. Tags on groceries could be read by refrigerators to warn of impending spoilage, or by microwave ovens to determine cooking directions, and could even be used for product recalls. To make this work, the tags had to be cheap—ideally less than 5 cents each.

Such was the EPC system developed at the MIT Auto-ID Center and ratified as a standard in 2004. It uses technology similar to a wireless building-access card but at a different part of the radio frequency (RF) spectrum. The EPC system allows every tag to have a company prefix, an item product code, and an electronic serial number. Each EPC can also be turned into an internet Uniform Resource Identifier (URI), potentially giving every product its own web address. More advanced tags are equipped with read-write memory, onboard sensors that can record temperature and pressure, and even a “kill” command for consumers wanting to protect their privacy.

Companies are now starting to equip products with EPC tags, just as they started printing barcodes on product packages in the 1970s. Today, passive 96-bit EPC tags with an integrated antenna generally cost from 7 to 15 cents, according to RFID Journal. Readers typically cost $500 to $2,000.”

SEE ALSO Smart Homes (2011)

The wireless Electronic Product Code allows an entire box of inventory or a whole shelf of products to be scanned in seconds.

Fair Use Sources: B07C2NQSPV