RFID: What I really want it for

This isn’t really coding related, but it’s technology related at least. There’s been a lot of fuss made about how great or awful RFID is and will be in the future, in terms of usefuless and privacy invasion respectively. There’s one use which I haven’t seen discussed, but which seems pretty obvious to me – but with further enhancements available.

Basically, I want RFID on clothes to tell me useful stuff. Suppose each item of clothing were uniquely tagged, and you had a bunch of scanners in your home linked up to one system which stored metadata about the clothes. Suddenly the following tasks become easier:

  • Working out which wash cycle to use for a whole washing basket. Can’t see the dark sock hidden in the white wash? The RFID scanner could alert you to it. Likewise tumbledrying – no need to check each item separately, just attach the scanner over the tumbledryer door and wait for it to beep as you try to put something in which shouldn’t be tumbled.
  • Separating clothes to put them away after they’re clean and dry. Admittedly this is more of a chore for our household than others (with twin boys and an older brother, where some items of clothing could belong to any of them) but it would be really, really useful for us.
  • Remembering who you’ve borrowed which clothes from. Kids grow out of clothes very quickly; we have a number of friends who lend us clothes from their children, and likewise we lend plenty of clothes to them and others. You’ve then got to remember what you borrowed from who, which can become tricky when you’ve got a loft full of bags of clothing. Wouldn’t it be nice to just “label” all the clothes in a bag with the owner’s name when you first receive them, and then just pass a scanner near everything quickly later on?

The privacy issues of all of this would have to be worked out carefully (as the simplest solution would allow your movements to be traced just by which clothes you’re wearing) but if it does end up being possible, I’ll be hugely grateful for this.

(Next up, benchmarking of for vs foreach in various situations. In other words, back to our regular schedule :)

9 thoughts on “RFID: What I really want it for”

  1. I’m not so worried about privacy here right now. Most RFID works within a range of one meter – since the RFID tags would likely have to be passive tags (unless you were willing to shield that battery really well) and that requires being in range to draw enough power from the signal to send the reply.

    If you wanted to trace someone, you’d have to work within that radius and track down the tags that would apply – sometimes the shirt, sometimes gloves, sometimes pants, sometimes socks, depending on how high the receiver is located.

    It will be a problem the moment these receivers are *everywhere*, and the owners of them are trading this information and combining it with cameras to triangulate the person and piece of clothing.

    I think a better implementation would be of a transparent band-aid (stop-smoking-patch-like) that you’d affix to the clothes. The inside of the washing advice tag would be shielded and nearly invisible, for example. Socks would admittedly be hard.


  2. Ha! I was discussing the need for this very feature with a colleague last week. Seriously, we had automated systems in mind for sorting, washing, drying, and even what needs ironing.


  3. Jon,

    Interesting applications. I think privacy is an interesting issue but it distracts from the actual scarier/exciting issue of the fact that we are beginning to put our intelligence/knowledge outside of our bodies and into systems (granted this is a trivial example). Will we remember why we can’t put a dark sock in a white wash in 10 years if the washing machine has been alerting us not to do it for so long?



  4. Heaven Beware!
    It is not forbidden to place RFID receivers everywhere. Collection firms will harvest the data and trade it with each other. Now, you wear one of your RFID-clothes when you pay with a customer card in a shop. From now the data cloud in the databases has a name…..

    One cannot want that, and the argument goes beyond the privacy thing.



  5. @Paul: I would say that *is* the privacy argument, rather than going beyond it.

    Ideally I’d want to be able to program the RFID tags to only respond (or whatever you want to call it) to receivers that I’d given the relevant certificate/key/password/whatever.



  6. > Ideally I’d want to be able to program the RFID tags to only respond (or whatever you want to call it) to receivers that I’d given the relevant certificate/key/password/whatever.

    And the cost of tags/readers will increase a few cents/dollars. Just kidding :-)


  7. I would want RFIDs for finding things in my room. Simply tag everything and have a portable device that memorizes the exact location at which a particular tag was seen. Also handy for remembering where you parked a car or bicycle :)


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