The Possibilities Are Limitless with RFID (S1:E3)

Humans in Tech

Claire Swedberg, Senior Editor at RFID Journal, joins us to talk about the major growth areas for radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, the shifts in how humans are using the tech, and the challenges we are overcoming in adoption. We also discuss the power of an RFID engagement community, a knowledge share platform that can connect developers, brands, and RFID and NFC innovators and experts.

Full Transcript

Speaker 1 (00:01):
You’re listening to Humans in Tech. Our podcast explores today’s most transformative technology and the trends of tomorrow. Bringing together the brightest minds in and outside of our industry. We unpack what’s new in physical access, identity verification, cybersecurity and IOT ecosystems. We reach beyond the physical world, discuss our digital transformation as a species and dive into the emerging figital experience.

Join us on our journey as we discover just how connected the future will be and how we will fit into that picture. Identiv’s RFID, and NFC solutions verify identities and security in the IOT and are embedded in billions of everyday objects, including medical devices, books, toys, athletic apparel, perishables and pharmaceuticals.

The company’s NFC app development, med tech and pharma authentication, anti-counterfeiting and brand protection, tracking, cold chain, sensing, eco-friendly and UHF solutions let you create your own products, ecosystems and experiences.

Leigh Dow, VP of global marketing in Identiv, is here to talk with Claire Swedberg, senior editor at RFID Journal, the world’s leading source of RFID news and information. Claire has driven stories at RFID Journal for over 16 years. And the news source itself is just about to celebrate its 20 year anniversary in March.

Leigh Dow (01:31):
Claire, Identiv is so grateful to RFID Journal as an industry resource. I know I read it every day. And we truly appreciate how much you have amplified our solutions over the years. This is our first time connecting one to one, so it’s so great to meet you.

Claire Swedberg (01:45):
You too. Thanks so much for having me.

Leigh Dow (01:47):
For sure. We know you’ve been with RFID Journal since 2006, but can you take our listeners through your background?

Claire Swedberg (01:53):
Yeah. That’s a really interesting question for me, because obviously I’m first and foremost a journalist and I got my background in news journalism, newspapers, television, and you get to a point where you want to specialize and it certainly helps if you can specialize in an area, and I chose technology.

So I was covering a lot of technology-based stories, especially I was interested in engineering information technology at that time. And here’s where it gets interesting. I had a friend who worked at the Associated Press with another gentleman named Mark Roberti. And he was telling me that he had this friend, Mark, who had been working with him in Hong Kong and had come across this interesting technology called RFID.

And he said, he’s not 100% sure what that is, but he knew a little bit that he described as best he could and said, “Mark discovered there wasn’t much information about this technology out there in the media and he decided to open a publication dedicated to educating people just about this technology.”

So we had a little conversation, this friend and I, and he told me that as far as he could understand it, RFID could be used in a variety of ways. And the anecdote that he came up with was maybe you could put an RFID chip in your child, and then you’d know where they were. And I thought at the time, “Well, that’s certainly interesting. I can’t even imagine.”

Leigh Dow (03:25):
I could do it. I’d do it.

Claire Swedberg (03:29):
Every parent understands what he’s saying, but as it turns out, the technology of course is completely inappropriate for such a thing, you would never do anything remotely like that with RFID. But it started the conversation. And I got talking to Mark and we started the reality of RFID in stories, which was more around the use cases of tracking goods and putting tags on pallets, and on carts or crates, or items where you can keep track of a large amount of goods that are moving across a supply chain.

So as the technology’s been evolving, I’ve continued to cover it. And that’s really where you’d have to say my interest in RFID isn’t so much one spark as it is.

It’s just been a growing interest that doesn’t leave me, because RFID is evolving just as the world is. And it always finds new challenges and it finds new ways to solve challenges.

And the publication, RFID Journal is doing the same thing. As long as I feel that we are providing information that people need, then I’ve got my passion in it and RFID is serving it up. I have to say we are changing all the time.

Leigh Dow (04:45):
I always think it’s really interesting to hear how journalists get into the topics that they become specialists in writing about. Obviously working in PR and marketing, I’ve interviewed a lot of people who have a journalism degree and I’ll ask them, “Well, what else did you study?” And they say, “What do you mean?” And I say, “Well, did you think you were going to write about journalism?” What is your area of interest? Is it finance? Is it technology? Is it sports? What is the thing that you’re going to hang your hat on to write about?

Claire Swedberg (05:15):
And you start out in school as a generalist, and lots of people stay in that area. That’s a very reasonable and real respectable way to have a career. But if you can find an area of interest, then technology is absolutely fascinating because it’s so important and it’s growing so fast. And really a journalist’s job is to provide information that’s a value. And so if you can be educating people on anything, that’s something of importance than you’re in a good job.

Leigh Dow (05:44):
Well, I think RFID too, it’s so interesting because there’s so many use case scenarios and possibilities for storytelling on how the technology is really changing the way people live and work and play. So I it’s definitely no shortage of great stories out there.

Claire Swedberg (06:02):
Absolutely. Absolutely. So, like I said, when I originally was writing about RFID I was in the warehouse. And today I’m all over the place. So I’m talking to people all over the world, almost on a daily basis, learning about applications I wouldn’t have dreamed of. And as long as there’s creative people out there, there seems to be new stories to write about a technology that I’m now pretty familiar with.

Leigh Dow (06:25):
Well, you certainly have your finger on the pulse of RFID today, what are some of the major growth areas that you’re anticipating for 2022?

Claire Swedberg (06:34):
Okay. So that’s an interesting question. And it might have been different if we’d had this conversation a few years ago. The pandemic has changed a lot of things and you can’t even answer that question without thinking about the pandemic and what it’s done to the world and the industry of RFID or technology in general.

So there’s challenges out there that we maybe couldn’t have anticipated. And I guess the biggest one is the supply chain [inaudible 00:07:05] matter to retail. And retail has really got challenges in front of it that none of us could have imagined a few years ago. So RFID is just one of the technologies that is offering in a solution. It’s certainly not going to clear up our supply chain problems, but it will be a tool. Because if you don’t have visibility in your supply chain, you got a pretty serious problem.

I recall when things were starting to open up again, the first time around with the pandemic and manufacturing picked up again in China, and the stores started opening again all over the world, and the retailers just were pulling their hair out because goods were just in unexpected places. Maybe the materials didn’t get to the manufacturing site and got stuck somewhere, or maybe products were in the process of being shipped when the shutdown occurred.

Some people were saying they had containers out back that had goods in them, and they didn’t know what was in there. A lot of people, they had ordered goods and didn’t know if they ever got manufactured and if they got shipped. The companies that had some kind of RFID in place told me that they felt they had a leg up.

So that obviously helped them. And I think a lot of them expanded as a result of having that RFID they wanted to expand how they were using it. And other companies that weren’t using it started taking a look and saying, “Maybe I need to find a way to bring some visibility to my supply chain,” not only to solve problems like this, but then of course, there’s the other issue that’s going on for retail, which is the omnichannel.

That would’ve happened either way. Pandemic or not, the way people are ordering and purchasing goods is changing and meeting that is pretty complex. So some people want to do all their shopping online. Some people are ordering things and picking them up in the store. Some people want curbside pickup. There’s so many models now and meeting that challenge over a very accelerated transformation in this last two years, that’s really been a struggle for retailers and brands as well. So RFID is one of the technologies that’s there to potentially help that situation and it’s going to be interesting to watch this evolve.

Leigh Dow (09:32):
Well, I know that over the last two years, I’ve certainly earned a championship belt in online shopping.

Claire Swedberg (09:37):
Haven’t we all? Absolutely. And not only just ordering things online and then returning them, that’s the other side to this. So even more complex. So now you’ve got goods being returned, how are you going to identify those goods? Are they going back and into the sales? Are they going to be resold? What’s happening next? So that is going to be complex, no matter how we evolve through this. And I’m going to be watching RFID closely to see what happens with that.

Leigh Dow (10:11):
How do you see the technology shaping the way the industry transforms in the next few years?

Claire Swedberg (10:18):
Okay. That’s interesting. I think RFID tags are getting less expensive. They’re getting smaller and more sensitive. RFID readers are getting more sensitive and the performance is just getting better and better. So the technology itself, I think, with these kinds of improvements, and of course that happens, doesn’t it? Developers get better and better at developing the technology that we need.

And that’s going to mean, obviously it’s going to proliferate, we’re going to have more solutions than we had before and things that are affordable, that just weren’t in the past. That’s one side of it. And it’s just the natural, the Moore’s law development, you expect technology to do that.

The other thing though, that comes to my mind, is the IOT. It’s more than just a fancy term and there’s so many technologies in the internet of things and RFID is one of them. It’s been interesting to see that they can work together with RFID could work with Laura, it could work with Bluetooth Low Energy. You can use one technology for one purpose and RFID for another, and get a solution that ultimately gives you hopefully an affordable idea of where your goods are.

Even if they travel across the sea, or they end up in the wrong warehouse or the wrong port, you’re going to have a much better understanding if you’re using hybrid systems. And RFID is getting pretty good at that. So I’ve been interested in watching that evolve too.

Leigh Dow (11:59):
So through your work, have you seen a need for an RFID developer community? And if you do, how beneficial do you think that would be for the industry?

Claire Swedberg (12:09):
I can’t imagine anything better than getting people collaborating who are smart people, understand the technology and have good ideas. It’s really what RFID Journal was about, is to just get ideas out to people. And it puts me in a nice position of knowing how much of that kind of sharing of information and collaborating people want.

I get people all the time who say, “I just read your story. I didn’t know they were doing this. Can you connect me with that person,” or “that company and let’s talk.” That’s been something that’s been going on since I first started writing about RFID. So it’s really important. I think people really need to share their understanding and share what they’re learning.

Leigh Dow (12:57):
I think that’s very pronounced on the RFID Journal website where you see how many different industries, verticals, applications there are for this technology.

Claire Swedberg (13:07):
Absolutely. And again, you’ve got to collaborate to really push something forward, I think. You can have a good idea, but when you get together with somebody who can solve a problem for you, then you finally get your action. I think of a guy that I talked to after I delivered a little presentation at a conference about supply chain and he came up to me after the show and said, “Do you think I could put an RFID tag on an apple?” He was an apple producer?

And at the time the answer was, “No. If you put an RFID tag on every one of your apples, it would just not be affordable and you wouldn’t get the information that you want because there just aren’t readers everywhere that your apple goes.” Today though, the answer might not necessarily be no. And that’s in part, I think because the technology companies are evolving and thinking of things that they can be doing to make this more affordable.

And then you got the guys who actually have the apples and can say, “All right, this is my problem now. How are we going to solve this?” And you have to collaborate in order to solve some of these problems. So I think overall, for the solutions to really reach that next level, I think you’ve got to have some more collaboration.

Leigh Dow (14:28):
I agree. We, at Idevtiv, is really known for being great design engineering partners. And I think that as we see more and more people collaborating on designs and on new ideas and new concepts, again, the possibilities are fairly limitless.

Claire Swedberg (14:49):
There’s another story that I wrote recently. And this was not RFID, it was, well, a form of it, it was NFC, but it’s the same idea. Somebody had an idea for a piano that you just print on a piece of paper and people could play the piano and you would hear it in your phone because there’s an NFC transmission between the phone and the piece of paper.

Leigh Dow (15:12):
That’s really cool.

Claire Swedberg (15:14):
And he made a video just to show people that you could do this. He had a son who was a programmer and they just put this together in a few hours. And he said he got phone calls and people reaching out to him saying, “I love that. Go ahead and order four of those for my family members for Christmas.”

He said, “That’s really not the point. I’m not selling a product. I’m just trying to show what could be done.” And here’s where he said that’s what was so interesting to him. He’s not one to make this product. He needs to get people with good ideas together with those who build the solutions.

And when you get the toy companies together with somebody who makes potentially that technology that could connect a piece of paper with your phone and come up with a piano, that’s where you get the magic and you have to have that. So I find that fascinating that somebody could put the together a good idea and that it would spark interest from the large companies that might actually move it forward.

Leigh Dow (16:20):
I went to my first RFID Journal live this past year. And I really took the time to not only visit the other exhibitor booths, but also to check in on the different learning opportunities, the presentations. And there were quite a few, there was one by Lockheed Martin that I found fascinating just about what they’ve done with the department of defense and using this kind of technology and just like all of the great learning opportunities, it was really fascinating to me. It’s a really great show.

Claire Swedberg (16:52):
Thank you. I’m glad that you enjoyed that. I say thank you as if I’m taking credit for it. I just enjoy those shows quite a bit. And my job there, of course, even though I work for RFID Journal, I’m there as a reporter and I just move through the floor looking for news. And anybody who goes to one of these shows is likely to see me approaching them because I’m there to get that physical presence of meeting people, seeing their displays, if they have a booth, or just hearing their bright ideas, because that’s where things really happen.

Leigh Dow (17:27):
So in your opinion, what is the biggest challenge right now in continuing to build adoption of RFID technology?

Claire Swedberg (17:33):
I’m going to say education. Obviously, there’s other challenges, there’s always challenges for any technology. But RFID is still a mystery to many people. And even with RFID Journal and even with the presence that RFID has today and a lot of the things that we do and there’s certainly, we’ve got RFID tags in our homes and in our cars, a lot of people are very unfamiliar with the technology still, or don’t fully understand what it can accomplish.

And that’s an ongoing challenge that I think we want to keep addressing. We don’t want to forget about that. But it should get easier. The idea is there’s maybe less pushback as time goes on because people are starting to understand if not the word RFID but actually just seeing the technology in action without necessarily happy to know the acronym behind it.

Leigh Dow (18:31):
We just launched a UHF tag on-metal that is really exciting, it has so many interesting applications.

Claire Swedberg (18:45):
It’s interesting to see how to get past some of the things that have been challenging. Again, I go back to 2006 with this, at what time putting tags on-metal was just insurmountable in most cases, certainly affordably. So when I see companies coming up with these things that are resolving problems that seemed at one time insurmountable, I find that pretty exciting.

Leigh Dow (19:11):
It is. And if you think about just the step change in that period of time where we could be heading with that.

Claire Swedberg (19:21):
I think the on-metal tags are exciting. I think sensors are exciting and the things that can be done with them with a passive tag. Today people can get a lot more information than just an ID number and they can do it on form factors that were just unapproachable just a few years ago. Like metal or like very small objects, like a lipstick, like things that have liquids, it’s quite fascinating.

Leigh Dow (19:48):
Well, like I said earlier, we’re just so grateful to have a publication like RFID Journal and the great reporting that you do. It’s just always very informative. Like I said, I read it every day and I always learn something new. And it’s just a very interesting world out there that’s enabled by RFID.

Claire Swedberg (20:08):
Leigh, I couldn’t agree with you more. And thank you so much for being a reader and for supporting the publication. It doesn’t work without that.

Leigh Dow (20:17):
Thank you so much for joining us, Claire.

Claire Swedberg (20:19):
Thank you for having me.

Speaker 1 (20:20):
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Physical security, identity verification. The IOT, the hyperconnectivity of our lives will only grow more pervasive. As technology becomes more automated and experiences more augmented, it’s up to us to preserve our humanity and use new tools and trends for good. The only question is, are we up for the challenge?