June 2007

Societal Benefits of ICT through RFID

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Radio frequency identification (RFID) is one of the most promising and anticipated technologies in recent years. This article explains the technology behind RFID and its  societal benefits for e-Governance applications. It presents some existing scenarios of successful implementation of this technology for the same, globally, and elaborates on its potential in a few other e-Governance applications, typically suited for India.

Radio frequency identification, or RFID, is a generic term for technologies that use radio waves to automatically identify people or objects. RFID works by assigning a unique serial number to a microchip. The chip sometimes may contain some information of the object and is attached to an antenna. The chip and the antenna together are called RFID transponder or RFID tag. The antenna enables the chip to transmit the identification information to a reader. The reader converts the radio waves reflected back from the RFID tag into digital information that can then be passed on to computers that can use this information in various applications.

RFID and Barcode are two different technologies, which sometimes overlap. The differences are that bar codes are line-of-sight technology, that is people usually have to orient the bar code towards a scanner for it to be read, uses optical signal to transfer information, does not identify the unique item i.e bar code on one milk carton is the same as every other, making it impossible to identify which one might pass its expiration date first. Where as RFID, does not require line of sight, RFID tags can be read as long as they are within range of a reader. It uses RF signals to transfer information from the RFID device to the reader. The device can contain data about the item, such as what the item is, what time the device travelled through a certain zone, perhaps even a parameter such as temperature. RFID is different from smart card in that RFID are for identification and tracking of objects, have less security & store less data.

The article presents application of technology for e-Governance. It discusses the technology, need of RFID in e-Governance and market estimates of this technology respectively. It also looks at a few case studies of use of RFID, in global and also typically in Indian environments.

RFID and  e-Governance

e-Governance, is often referred as Digital Governance. In simple terms, it refers to the governance processes in which Information and communications technology (ICT) play active and significant role. It uses technologies to facilitate the operation and the disbursement of government information and services. e-Government deals with not only internet but also non-internet applications to aid in governments such as large-scale use of telephones and fax machines, surveillance systems, tracking systems such as RFID tags, and even the use of television and radios to spread government-related information. The use of radio waves to spread disaster warnings, or to give information on voting, are well known applications of e-Government. Media has been used to spread pro-government messages. Applications such as tracking systems for citizens, ubiquitous surveillance and bio-id have many privacy issues concerned about the growing role of e-Government.

Governments, and various departments and agencies, globally, need a fast, authentic and secure mechanism to identify citizens to ensure that the benefits offered via various government schemes are enjoyed by the rightfully privileged citizens. RFID offers governments the right tool to take technology to the rural areas and bring them into the main stream through assimilation of data and disbursement of benefits to the authorised individuals resulting in increased efficiency and reduced pilferage.

Global Market Estimates for RFID

 RFID is viewed as an emerging technology with the potential to disrupt currently used systems for cataloguing operations in the manufacturing, retail, and service and transform sectors of the economy. Estimates of market size for RFID over the next 2-3 years vary significantly.

  • The International Data Corporation (IDC) estimated that the RFID market for related consulting, implementation, and managed services were expected to grow 47% in 2004 and reach $2 billion worldwide by 2008. IDC also reports that almost two third of enterprise organisations considering RFID applications in 2004 indicated that they would rely on external resources in implementing RFID. IDC also points to future growth in the IT services and data management sectors from RFID-related implementations.
  • The Wireless Data Research Group says that spending on RFID was about US$1billion in 2003, and will triple by 2007.
  • The Yankee Group estimates that RFID technology will be a $4.2 billion market by 2008. A further breakdown of these estimates shows that, over the next three years, manufacturers will spend $2 billion on RFID tags and another $1-3 billion on related infrastructure.
  • Another high-tech market research firm, In-Stat, estimates that worldwide revenues from RFID tags have jumped from $300 million in 2004 to $2.8 billion in 2009. However, as the costs of RFID tags continue to fall, use of the technology for inventory control will likely increase.

Existing Global Scenarios: Applications of RFID in e-Governance

1. National ID and Specific ID projects: RFID based National ID Cards are issued with a view of identifying authentic citizens. The multi-application functionality of a smart card expedites lengthy identification processes, virtually eliminating paperwork and manual data entry, thus playing a pivotal role in providing government benefits to the targeted population. RFID based National ID includes security options like Biometrics and Digital certificates, to securely authenticate and enable multiple applications on the same card. The strong capability in conceptualisation, system design and integration can help the Government to rollout customised ID applications.

2. High Performance RFID in Parking: Long range RFID for convenient and secure access in parking. The new compact sized LR-3 reader is a 2.45GHz long-range RFID reader, specially designed for parking applications. It identifies ID-tags at ranges up to 3 meters. It may be mounted on a pole or directly on lane equipment. The reader has several communication alternatives and is easily integrated using the most commonly used interfaces. Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) is the solution to secure and convenient hands-free access control. The operating frequency, 2.45GHz, and low output power allows for license-free installation worldwide. Examples of installation sites include commercial and corporate parking areas, gated communities, airport parking, university parking and hospitals. The advantages of which are manifolds.

3. RFID Passports and Traveller Tracking: The USA State Department's Passport Office  had planned to issue some RFID Passports  to airline employees and to USA diplomats by the end of 2005 and to the general public in February 2006, according to August 2005 press reports. USA Department of Homeland Security is also testing longer-range RFID chips embedded in I-94 (immigration entry/exit) cards which visitors are required by law to keep in their possession at all times throughout their stay in the USA, as part of the US-VISIT for logging visitors' movements across borders. This is the first case in which anyone in the USA (even non-citizens), other than convicted criminals or those subject to specific restrictive court orders issued following adversary and evidentiary legal proceedings, will have been required by law to carry remote radio tracking devices. But the greater emphasis in transit “security” seems to be on identification and tracking of passengers, rather than searches.

4. RFID in Disaster Management: At Gulport, Mississippi, as body counts mounted and missing-person reports multiplied after Hurricane Katrina, some morgue workers began using RFID tags to keep track of unidentified remains. RFID tags – slender red cylinders about half an inch long – were implanted under the corpses' skin or placed inside body bags .Each tag comes packaged in a white plastic injector that looks like a bulky pen attached to a thick hypodermic needle. The chips were implanted in the corpse's shoulder or placed inside the body bag and handheld scanners read the radio signals. The beige plastic scanners, which resemble TV remote controls, have screens that display a 16-digit number when passed within six inches of a chip. RFID allows the technicians to accurately and quickly identify the remains inside the body bag without having to open the body bag at each step along the process, enabling morgue workers to quickly locate and catalog the remains, speed the morgue-management process and reduce errors. With 48 of the 133 bodies recovered in Harrison and Hancock counties still unidentified after two days, the chips have been a boon to the Disaster Mortuary Operational Recovery Team.

5. Waste Management: Technology is beginning to play a big role in managing the millions of tons of trash generated every year. As communities are faced with government restrictions on amount and type of waste generated,  employing RFID for volume based garbage collection pricing can help manage this problem by using RFID tags for garbage barrels and readers for garbage trucks. Transponders are attached to waste bins. As a trash receptacle is lifted into a collection truck, the transponder returns a unique code – which is sent to an onboard computer – allowing for instant identification of the trash container. For residential solid waste collection and recycling, Trash carts fitted with RFID transponders are allowing cities and towns in North America and Europe to convert from per-household payment to pay-by-volume systems — and encourage recycling in the process.

Edmond, Okla., has already distributed 18,000 RFID-equipped bins as part of a six-month evaluation. This will allow the city to charge residents for collection based on garbage weight per household. Fully- automatic trucks will lift each plastic bin, identify its owner, weigh and empty the garbage, and later upload the information to a computer. The system will also help the city save money through more efficient collection routes and reduced worker injury, because employees will no longer have to leave the truck. With the automated system, the towns have been able to open transfer stations 24 hours a day. 

Opportunities in Indian Market

India is emerging as a strong global economy with a wide Industrial base. It also possesses globally recognised and well respected IT skills. Indian industry has evinced keen interest in adoption and deployment of RFID technology. It would be of immense use across numerous industries like shipping, defence, aircraft, pharmacy, automobile and IT. Implementation of RFID can also help eliminate unnecessary stock, enhance productivity, arrest theft, pilferage and is a big opportunity for IT companies

Existing Indian Scenarios: RFID in e-Governance

1. RFID to Track Wagons: The Centre for Railway Information Systems (CRIS) of Indian Railways plans to use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to improve the wagon management system of the railways. CRIS proposes to have a RFID tag or chip embedded in all wagons, and provide sheds with handheld devices that would read these chips and thus register the data. Following this, the details can be fed into the Indian railways system to help track wagons accurately. A pilot project will be run in the East Coast Railways.

2. Vehicle Tracking Project Launched: The Minister of Road Transport and  Highways, Government of India, T.R. Baalu launched a pilot project for radio frequency identification (RFID)-based vehicle tracking project on the Delhi-Jaipur highway of India on July 21 2005. Under the project, 68 buses of Rajasthan state road transport corporation (RSRTC) plying on the highway have been fitted with RFID tags and readers have been placed to track the vehicle movement along the highway, whereby their movement is being tracked, monitored and managed. RFID grids have been placed along with very small aperture terminal (VSAT) at four places that are about 50 km apart from each other.

3. Milking using  RFID : The Rs.150 crore Chitale Dairy Farm, located  at Bhilawadi, around 240 km from Pune, handles about 60 million litres of milk per annum.An orange tag keeps track of the numbers of buffaloes. A blue tag is the metallic cover under which the RFID tag has been locked  to prevent damage to the card inside. At the time of allocating the electronic ID, a link is created with the physical ID. The card stores a host of information on the buffalo mainly on three counts

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