Microsoft joins forces with RFID tag organisation

AutoID, a non-profit organisation promoting the use of RFID (radio frequency identification) tags in inventory tracking and...

AutoID, a non-profit organisation promoting the use of RFID (radio frequency identification) tags in inventory tracking and management, has won the support of Microsoft.

AutoID, formed last month, is a joint venture of the Uniform Code Council (UCC) and EAN International, the two bodies involved in the standardisation of computer-readable product identification technology. The work of UCC and EAN is most obvious in the barcodes found on the packaging of consumer goods.

Microsoft is the first company to announce its intention to join AutoID, according to the group's president, Dicki Lulay.

"We welcome people like Microsoft and other solutions suppliers. We want to get as many people as possible involved," she said.

The group plans to take inventory control far beyond barcodes, by using uniquely numbered RFID tags. Computer systems will be able to identify not just the type of product in a package, but also precisely which package it is, including when it was manufactured and where it has been stored, by referring to vast databases of product information.

AutoID will take over the research activities of a separate entity known as Auto-ID Centre, a collaboration between around 100 companies and five universities.

The goal of AutoID is the development of five technology elements:

  • an electronic product code which will permit the identification of goods down to the level of individual items;
  • a system of RFID tags and readers, allowing product identification at a distance without need for line of sight;
  • an Object Name Service, similar to the Internet's DNS (Domain Name System), to translate the numeric code held in an RFID tag into a description of the item it identifies;
  • a physical markup language based on XML to systematically describe products, and
  • Savant, a distributed database of information about items identified with RFID tags.

Microsoft Business Solutions senior product planner Eric Estroff gave some indication as to what products would eventually incorporate AutoID technology.

"Think of it as a supply chain management issue, from point of manufacture to point of sale," he said.

"Microsoft's Retail Management System, a point of sale inventory management and payment processing application, is a clear example of where something would need to be integrated. It's safe to assume that in the 2004 timeframe we will have something that will support RFID."

Peter Sayer writes for IDG News Service

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