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If cars were tagged - Part 1

This is the first of a series of articles about how UHF RFID- equipped cars could be useful to different interest groups such as car owners, car service providers; and police and safety authorities.

CARS ARE SMART

Cars today are equipped with complex computer systems with memory containing information about the car, its history and maintenance needs, as well as a system for failure notifications and reminders. Some cars you can even talk to, and not just that, they talk back.

There are wireless cars that are connected to databases of information as well as connected to each other. It won't take long before we see social media tendencies where the vehicle is the star of the profile. My Volvo might recommend a brilliant motor oil brand that would suit your car too by dropping you a message, which can be displayed in your car on the dash for safe viewing. The "smart car" concept already exists, but it's still far from its full potential. In this article series we will discuss how RFID can make cars even smarter and what the future with UHF RFID-equipped cars might look like.

RFID IN CARS TODAY

RFID is already present in new cars, usually in the door locks and ignitions to ensure that the proper key is being used to start the car. Remote RFID car starters might also be a future feature - flashing a chip before a reader at a window inside the car opens the doors and starts the car - making keys redundant. Tires can be equipped with RFID sensor tags that measure air compression and alert when a refill is needed. New RFID applications are popping up constantly and enhancing the driving experience. But so far UHF RFID applications are still quite rare besides from a few exceptions.

EVEN SMARTER WITH UHF RFID

When we talk about applying UHF RFID to a car we're talking about completely different applications than mentioned above. We are talking about providing a car with a personal ID - somewhat like a register plate - that doesn't require visual contact. As long as the UHF RFID tag is placed in i.e. the windshield and isn't surrounded by metal, it can be read from a long distance. The possibility to read tagged cars from a long distance or even as it is moving opens the door for a whole new world of applications. Different interest groups have different benefits to collect from UHF RFID-tagged cars. This time we will focus on the benefits of the car owners.

HOW CAR OWNERS ENJOY THE BENEFITS OF UHF RFID

Gates and payments

The biggest benefits that car owners will experience by tagging their car are "comfort & convenience". Processes like paying toll fees and parking fees can be taken care of without lifting a finger. The UHF RFID passive tag attached in i.e. the windshield is read by RFID readers along the way or at gates as the car passes road tolls or enters car parks. The payment process can be automatized and handled directly by withdrawal from a credit card or by billing for instance once a month.  This already exists in many parts of the world, but some parking lots are not part of a big car park area with gates. They require the driver to get out of the car, go to a parking meter, estimate how much time the errands will take, pay (usually with coins), get back to the car with the printed parking ticket, place it in the windshield and then, the driver is finally on his way - constantly keeping an eye on the watch to get back before the parking time runs out. Add a blizzard storm to this equation and we have a recipe for cold fingers trying to find the coins and parking tickets getting lost in the wind. Fortunately it does not have to be this way. By tagging cars and placing sensors under parking lots billing can once again be automated. If the area has a maximum parking time of let's say 2h, the parking lot can send the driver a warning message when the maximum time is about to run out. The cities make sure that the parking fees get paid, fewer employees are needed for giving out tickets and the citizens are definitely happier.

Parking would be easier with RFID

Much like car parks some residential areas are protected with fences and gates keeping unwelcome and uninvited "guests" on the outside. The downside to this is the inconvenience and time it takes to pass through the gates. With a UHF RFID-tagged car the driver will find the gate open just in time without having to stop and flash a card at a reader or show an ID card to the gate personnel. The system is fast and secure and already adopted in many residential areas since it only requires tagging of access permitted cars.

Basically almost all kinds of car services can be paid for by automatic billing as long as the car is UHF RFID-tagged and an agreement has been signed with the service provider. At places where the driver is a regular customer, service preferences can be associated with the car in question, for instance at car washes. But we will talk more about these kinds of systems in the following parts of this article series.

Safety first

UHF RFID tagged cars would certainly make the world a safer place regarding traffic offenders. UHF RFID-tagged cars can be scanned on the move, which makes it easier to catch speeding hooligans in the act. And that's not all. The readers along the way could be set to detect tags of cars or car parts that have been reported stolen. To take this even further one could tag everything from valuable possessions to pets. Anything that gets reported missing or stolen can be detected with RFID readers along the roads. This might even be an effective way to find abducted children, as long as they carry something tagged on them. A system like this would of course require thorough investigations and strict laws in order not to impose on anybody's privacy. But it's definitely worth discussing.

Prevent speeding with RFID

Just for fun

Some countries are already adopting RFID tags on driver's licenses and ID cards. By installing a simple RFID reader (that for instance can be directly linked to a phone) in the car, it will detect who is attempting to use it. If the driver is the owner or a so called approved user, the car will start normally. But if the driver's license is unknown, the car will demand a pin code before starting. This adds one more obstacle for car thieves and enhances security as some children and teens might try their luck at the wheels when their parents are not watching. And not to forget, this way the car also reminds the driver not to leave without a driver's license. By tagging everything from house keys to reading glasses this service can be developed to work as no less than a personal assistant. While we're at it, I'm still waiting for a way to get my car to hand me a nice cup of coffee and a foot massage. Perhaps one day…

TO BE CONTINUED…

In the next blog posts about UHF RFID-equipped cars we will concentrate on how the following interest groups benefit from the technology:

  • Car and road service providers (gas stations, car parks, car rentals, car washes, road maintenance etc.)
  • Police and safety authorities
  • Car manufacturers

So, stay tuned and drive safe!

3 comments on “If cars were tagged - Part 1”

  1. Posted 09 October 2012 at 15:28:10

    Nice one Hanna! One very good example of RFID at road tolls can be found at the Öresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden. With a daily traffic of about 17 000 cars there must be quite many using RFID at the toll station!

  2. Gravatar of paul wilkespaul wilkes
    Posted 13 October 2012 at 07:42:59

    Whilst I agree with and understand the principle, the comment regarding "This might be an effective way of finding abducted children" raises the hairs on my neck. How long will it be before someone suggests tagging people at birth much like we do pets? Think of the benefits to society.....

  3. Gravatar of Hanna ÖstmanHanna Östman
    Posted 15 October 2012 at 09:08:30

    Thanks for your comment Paul. Personally I don't think tagging children at birth will be reality anytime soon. It sounds really scary to me too.

    But let's say you give your child a cell phone and tag it. As you report that your child is missing, the movement of the cell phone can then be tracked despite it not being turned on.

    We actually recently had a case in Finland where a little girl was abducted but thankfully found quickly since she was able to use her cell phone and call her parents. The police was able to track her cell phone.

    So my point is, the technology for tracking already exists in many different forms... cell phones, GPS etc. All new inventions can be used for both good and "evil". The best way for us to avoid the latter, is to discuss, question and criticize it openly but also to embrace the possibilities it could bring. So, thanks again for your comment!

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