RFID Conference Grows in Popularity

Papers on RFID were once hard to find because they were sprinkled throughout conferences on other topics

7 February 2008

Until last year, IEEE papers on RFID had been hard to find because they were sprinkled throughout conferences on other topics. But now RFID has a technical conference of its own. The second annual IEEE International Conference on RFID is scheduled for 16 and 17 April in Las Vegas.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is a way to tag objects with data—like bar codes but readable at a distance or even when hidden from view. For clients as diverse as Wal-Mart and the U.S. Department of Defense, RFID keeps tabs on where and when products were manufactured, when shipped, how routed, and perhaps what each one is. Tags have been used to identify each auto on assembly lines, track livestock and pets, and measure how much liquor bartenders pour. Attendees returning from the conference on airlines will find RFID tags on their luggage, part of a new routing and tracing system used by Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport—the first in the United States to deploy it.

Because RFID also cuts across such diverse technical concerns as communications, antennas, robotics, sensor networks, transportation, and medicine, its coverage had been scattered among at least 18 IEEE conferences. Now that it has a conference of its own, 14 technical societies have signed on as sponsors, and more than 280 authors from 25 countries have submitted technical papers, of which about 85 will be delivered if the conference has the same acceptance rate as last year.

PRIVACY CONCERNS The conference deals more with policy issues and with lawmakers than most IEEE conferences do. That’s because the nascent state of the RFID infrastructure fuels fears related to privacy and security, and such fears could lead to premature legislative action, says IEEE Member Emily Sopensky, the conference’s general chair. Such concerns are real, but addressable, she says. Some uses, such as vehicle tags that let drivers pay tolls on the fly, inherently trade privacy for convenience. But others need not.

“The information in the tag may be simply a unique ID that means nothing until associated with some application or database,” Sopensky says. “For example, the RFID tag reader above Exxon-Mobil gasoline pumps reads your tag but has to associate the number with other databases, such as your credit card provider’s.”

It’s possible to take simple measures to deter data thieves, she says. When concern arose over the detailed personal data on new U.S. passports’ tags, designers put conductive material on the cover as a shield to prevent theft of data from a distance, she notes. She points out that people expose more data when they leave their printed receipt at an ATM.

Lawmakers and government agencies are considering making RFID tagging mandatory for prescription drugs, tires, and other objects. Some analysts predict the RFID-tagging market will exceed US $13 billion by 2016. So the conference will cover RFID career paths for students and retraining for engineers whose jobs have been eliminated by recent economic shifts.

Because most R&D in the field comes from industry rather than academia, IEEE RFID’s 150 expected attendees probably will include more practitioners than do other IEEE conferences. Academics and practitioners should have plenty of opportunities to compare viewpoints and learn from one another. And co-locating the IEEE conference with the RFID Journal Live! trade show gives everyone a chance to learn from exhibitors and in turn gives exhibitors a chance to sit in on technical sessions.

That is important for the IEEE, says IEEE-USA President Russ Lefevre. “In the past, the IEEE has had difficulty connecting with practitioners,” Lefevre says, “so we’re working to become more relevant to them. By holding the conference with a trade show—which other IEEE conferences now do—we’re linking up RFID practitioners and vendors with high-level technical people who do this day to day.”

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