TRON News Items for January 2004

Ubiquitous ID-Tagged Produce Goes on Sale in Japan

Visitors to TRON SHOW 2004 in December 2003 got a chance to view slides of T-Engine-based monitoring systems in farmers' fields and even pass through a Ubiquitous ID-based shopping exhibit in the middle of the exhibits area that included a computerized shopping cart and a computerized checkout counter. It all seemed so futuristic that one could never imagine these technologies being put through practical trials in the near future. But that's exactly what happened the following month. On January 6, the T-Engine Forum announced that it would commence a month long proof-of-concept trial using uIDs attached to 30,000 green grocery items--mainly cabbages and daikon--grown by members of the Yokosuka Hayama agricultural cooperative. They were to be sold to members of the general public in Tokyo and Yokohama at three stores belonging to the Keikyu supermarket chain between January 8 and February 6, 2004, with funding for the experiment being provided by Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The T-Engine Forum said that this was the first time that uIDs, which are tiny radio transceivers that are generically referred to as radio frequency identification (RFID) chips, integrated circuit (IC) tags, or simply electronic tags, have been attached to fresh produce to monitor their every step from the fields to the consumer at the retail outlet. As part of the trial, Ubiquitous Communicator terminals were installed in the stores taking part in the test, thus allowing for complete traceability by both store employees and their customers. Another noteworthy feature of this trial is that it involves small growers and a small, regional distributor in the general vicinity of the growers. This is different from the Auto-ID project in the U.S. and Europe, which involves using RFIDs in the service of large manufacturers and large retailers. This is part of T-Engine Forum leader Ken Sakamura's philosophy of helping even the smallest of producers to add traceability to their products. It is also for these small producers that he plans to continue support for bar codes, since they are cheaper than RFIDs.

NEC to Get into the IC Tag Business

According to a news item on the Japan Times Web site dated January 24, 2004, NEC sources said on January 23 that they planned to form a 300-man team to " . . . to deal with a full range of IC tag operations, including system architecture, . . . " The report further stated that NEC Electronics Corporation, which is heavily involved in the T-Engine project, is current developing an IC tag called "Net Label," and that NEC planned to start releasing IC tags by April of 2004 with the goal of generating annual sales of 200 billion yen in the IC tag business by 2010. The report did not state whether these are being designed in accordance with specifications laid down by the Ubiquitous ID Center, although that seems likely. The report also did not state whether they would by single band, i.e., usable only in Japan/Europe or U.S., or dual-band, usable in both markets. Toppan Printing Co., Ltd., currently markets a dual-band RFID chip called "Tjunction," which operates on the 2.45 GHz band used in Japan and Europe plus the 900 MHz band used in the U.S.