The Auto ID and Sensing Expo, held at MIT and produced by the Cambridge Enterprise Forum, offered a preview of what's ahead for auto-ID and related sensor-based technologies. In years past, this event was focused on UHF-RFID. This year's event was expanded to include technologies ranging from automotive telematics to specialized RFID-data-acquisition systems designed for vertical industries. It reasons that the driving force behind RFID-related technologies has moved from third-party comme
Vendors that had been leaders in the mandate-driven days of UHF-RFID, have shifted focus from “slap and ship” strategies to system designs that demonstrate how RFID solves challenges facing businesses—a welcome departure from the sterility of controlled pilot programs. An example of the space’s evolution can be observed by considering Alien Technologies. Once narrowly focused on market share related to tag production and sales, Alien Technologies today focuses on deployments in the manufacturing and retail sectors. Indeed, most vendors at the MIT event appear to have evolved past the stage of demonstrating the physics of RFID.
The RFID-related market is becoming less fragmented, a welcome development from a technology buyer perspective, a community that has been overwhelmed by vendor options and under-whelmed by results. An indication of the lessening market fragmentation can be observed in the reduced number of vendors that identify themselves as providers of RFID technology and tools. A pessimistic interpretation might be that the market has shrunk or consolidated—or that the value of the MIT event was low. Whatever the case, in recent history we've observed vendor attrition, acquisitions and exits from the RFID market altogether. Although this could be viewed as market implosion, we contend that it is merely the grounding of a technology sector that was never as earth moving as RFID boosters had suggested.
Recognizing that UHF-RFID is now supported by rationalized use cases and reasonable expectations, we believe that it's worthwhile to consider the wider Auto ID and sensor-based technologies space. An interesting place to start is in the area of telematics. Most often associated with the automotive industry, telematics systems collect, process, deliver, and analyze data sent from sensors mounted on a mobile asset. Unlike UHF-RFID systems, which are “passive,” telematics are “active” systems, meaning that these systems regularly “push” data from an enabled asset to an analytics architecture.
To emphasize the expanded range of technologies covered at this event, the keynote was delivered by an MIT professor whose research centers on “participatory sensing”—collecting data from multiple sources and making that data available to a community of users. The speaker demonstrated how pooled data can be exploited in manners ranging from civil infrastructure monitoring and visual mapping to route optimization.
That active systems that may not be exchanging typical RFID data are now included in the overall RFID narrative speaks to the coalescence of the sensor-based technology market. It's our belief that the inclusion of RFID and telematics into the broader categorization of auto-ID and sensor-based technologies is correct. Apparently, the event organizers agree, and we expect that vendors in the space will follow suit.