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Has the sun set on 3D TV and RFID?

Posted: 28 Dec 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:RFID  3D TV  CES  bar code  camera 

Operatively defined, the success of a technological product largely depends on its market uptake, the sustained demand and the long-term growth trajectory in terms of product developments and expanding market share. Now, Bill Schweber thinks back to some mass-market predictions that turned simply into niche market curiosities.

As the year draws to a close it is customary for bloggers (formerly known as columnists) and pundits to look back and cite what they think were the (choose one or more) best, worst, most innovative, most exciting products and developments of the past year, and attempt to predict the future. It's also the season of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) where hope and hype combine to show us what the future may look like or maybe not.

Rather than give you my subjective top-item listicle, I prefer to look at some of the more-hyped products and systems of a few years ago that seem to have not reached their hoped-for potential, or have largely disappeared from the market and attention. Sometimes you can learn a lot about the future by looking back, right?

Bill Schweber

Bill Schweber

The first one that comes to mind is radio frequency identification (RFID). Just a few years ago, the story was that RFID tags, both passive and active, would be everywhere. Some said that they would be so cheap and so useful that we'd find them on individual packages at the grocery, replacing the truly ubiquitous bar code. The real benefit would be with re-writable RFID tags that could have basic data added as the package was travelled, as a sort of personal record of the journey.

Some of the tags would have sensors for acceleration or temperature, and record if the package was dropped, or exposed to extreme temperatures (especially useful for foods such as fish, for example). From my selfish perspective, there would be lots of analogue circuitry in the sensors, the RF link and the RF readers, much of which could then be adapted to other applications, which is a normal consequence of a high-volume product development.

Did RFID everywhere happen, or at least make major advances? I'd say the answer is yes and no. On one side, we see RFID tags and connectivity used routinely in mass-transit passes, personal ID and keyless-entry systems, credit cards, chipped pets, warehouse pallets and toll transponders. However, we are not seeing them on packages of toothpaste, nor does there seem any movement towards that level of application.

Why not? In retrospect, I think it's easy to figure out: the cost of the tags and necessary support infrastructure (RFID readers, as a start) simply do not outweigh the benefits. The bar code is more than enough for retail and many other situations, and costs absolutely zero to print on a label. Even if you have to slap on a separate bar-code sticker, that's still pretty cheap. There's a well-developed system for assigning these UPC codes across the industry (or you can easily set up your own proprietary set) along with the many type of scanners to read the codes. For many situations, such as tracking that frozen fish and its temperature, the changes in the overall system are simply too costly and complicated.

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