TRON Project Leader's Opinion

Ken Sakamura

Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies, The University of Tokyo

The radio frequency identification (RFID) tag has been rapidly drawing attention lately, but it is a technology with a history in which it was announced in a paper in 1948, development proceeded in the 1960s and 1970s, and even practicalization in earnest began more than 20 years ago. However, it has taken time to spread. Having entered the 21st century, we are now trying to spread it in earnest. Why? Due to progress in technology, it has become possible to make it on a small scale in stable form. The characteristics when they were attached to various types of things were accumulated, and RFID tags came to be attached even to things like metal, which was a weak point. As for common standards, they have come to be specified in the ISO. There has been progress in such things as read/write technology. Various reasons can be given. However, no matter what one says, the greatest reasons are that the cost of tags has dropped dramatically, they have also become extremely small in size with the smallest being 0.3mm to 0.4 mm square, and, furthermore, even for the antenna attached to the tag, there has come into existence one that is flexible and ultra small. Thus there are great instances in which the range of applications expanded rapidly.

Applications have come into existence that up to now could not have been conceived, such as burying RFIDs in Euro notes and admission tickets for the Aichi Expo. In the distribution field, experiments have begun in which we try to grasp merchandise inventory and distribution data by attaching RFIDs to merchandise in various business fields. As they have been conducted disconnectedly in each business field, the advantages of RFIDs cannot be made use of, so how do we create a standard specification; and, furthermore, because memory capacity is still limited in low cost tags, our point of view through which we conceive of RFIDs as a system has beome important for things like how do we connect to the Internet, for example, based on the data the RFID tag holds, and how do we extract the targeted data from databases on the Internet.

In regard to standardization, there have appeared places where people are raising names. It has been energetically reported in the mass media, but the T-Engine group has already set up the Ubiquitous ID Center. As a result of things like the U.S. Auto-ID Center, which is centered on MIT, creating a local office in Japan, it has come about that we even see reports of the nature that there is a struggle for leadership. However, both I and my acquaintances at the Auto-ID Center have no intention of fighting among ourselves. In an interview in the February 24 issue of Nikkei konpyu-ta [Nikkei Computer], Kevin Ashton, executive director of the Auto-ID Center, replied to a question saying: "The direction that both Prof. Sakamura and I are aiming at is the same, and, moreover, it will require a lot of work to realize it. In that sense, I think that the research of Prof. Sakamura and our research are things that will mutually complete each other." I think likewise. These two aren't the only ones aiming at standardization. The EAN-UCC, an organization for standardizing merchandise codes, is promoting a standard called the Global Tag (GTAG).

Although RFIDs may have become cheap, the cost is still high to attach them to all sorts of things, and thus further development is required. The standardization of RFID tags and IDs still requires a lot more research and development on technologies and standards; this is a period in which we must diligently apply ourselves. I believe that various types of experiments ought to be carried out to stimulate the sound development of the ubiquitous society of the future.

In the telecommunications field, which hasn't been doing well following the collapse of the IT bubble, it us understandable that people are focused on the idea that "ubiquituous technology and RFIDs are dream key technologies on the Internet," but somehow there seems to be a lot of misunderstandings in the mass media. For the development of the RFID and the development of ubiquitous computing, we need technical competition in a good sense, but it is regrettable the mass media absurdly write it up in story after story as a dispute, which the concerned parties want them to know that it isn't. Today, rather than fighting, everyone clearing the way to the new technologies that match the age is the very thing that's important.

The above opinion piece by TRON Project Leader Ken Sakamura appeared on page 1 of Vol. 80 of TRONWARE. It was translated and loaded onto this page with the permission of Personal Media Corporation.

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Copyright © 2003 Sakamura Laboratory, University Museum, University of Tokyo