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June 2005

RFID's future: "We have just scratched the surface"

HP Labs' Dick Lampman talks about how HP's experience and innovation are coming together to create new uses for product-tracking technology


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RFID could help businesses certify product delivery, run data centers more efficiently and even reduce counterfeit and warranty fraud.

by Jamie Beckett

RFID technology is already helping businesses like HP run their supply chains more efficiently – reducing costs, uncertainty and risk while increasing visibility, speed and accuracy. But that's just the beginning, says Dick Lampman, senior vice president for research, HP, and director of HP Labs.

Lampman says that RFID, or radio frequency identification technology – combined with other technologies being developed at HP Labs – has the potential to help businesses certify product delivery, run their data centers more efficiently and even reduce the growing problems of counterfeit and warranty fraud.

"In the future, RFID will be combined with other sensors into a wireless, secure, self-configuring and self-healing network," he said. "Customers will reap incredible visibility, flexibility and efficiency into their operations."

Lampman is one of 15 members of the Board of Governors of EPCglobal, a not-for-profit group setting industry protocols and specifications for the Electronic Product Code, the next generation in product identification. He spoke recently to business, academic and government leaders at the Third International EPCglobal and RFID Summit in Beijing.

RFID at work in HP

HP has an incredibly complex supply chain. It has customers in more than 170 countries and conducts business in 43 currencies and 15 different languages. The company touches 45 million consumers a month in retail and last year sold consumers 53 million products.

"HP obviously demands a global supply chain that is cost-efficient and flexible," Lampman noted. The company was an "early adopter" of RFID, commencing trials in 2002 with the goals of saving money, reducing risk, increasing supply-chain agility and better serving customers.

"This year alone, we anticipate that we could ship more than one million HP consumer products with RFID tags," Lampman said. "We have the capacity and expertise to do this and we plan to continue growing and investing in this technology -- more than $150 million over the next five years."

The company is now implementing or working to implement RFID in about 30 manufacturing sites worldwide -- possibly one of the world's largest RFID implementations.

In addition, HP is putting its experience to work for customers, providing services for businesses that want to implement RFID today and providing RFID-enabled goods to customers.

New applications, new technologies

HP also is pursuing research in RFID and sensing technologies, creating systems aimed at allowing businesses to track and monitor products they've purchased. In one project, researchers are working to allow IT operators to automatically track the location and temperature of servers in a data center.

In addition, scientists are developing software algorithms that make networks of RFID readers and other sensors both resilient to failure as well as tolerant to intrusions.

"Researchers are developing an intelligent network of sensors that will create an adaptive, secure and easy-to-manage sensing infrastructure -- one that turns data centers into Smart Data Centers and warehouses into Smart Warehouses," Lampman said. "We have just scratched the surface in terms of what we can do with this technology."

Other possibilities

By gaining the ability to automatically track and trace products, businesses may also gain a tool that helps them keep counterfeit goods out of the supply chain, Lampman said. Although pharmaceutical companies are pursing this, other industries – including cost-sensitive high-tech – could benefit.

RFID could also help businesses more confidently prove delivery of products – an essential part of trading between the shipper and customer.

"RFID is a technology with tremendous potential," Lampman said. "It will take us to the next level in terms of quality and speed."

Related links

» Dick Lampman's page
» Sensing and sensibility: Taking RFID to the next level
» RFID solutions from HP
» EPC global

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Dick Lampman

Richard H. (Dick) Lampman
Senior Vice President, Research, HP
Director, HP Labs

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