Electronic Design

Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

I wonder if the line “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” from the famous Simon and Garfunkel song, “Mrs. Robinson,” will have any meaning for future generations. Not because they won’t understand the context of the song or even know who Joe DiMaggio is, but because not knowing where someone has gone might be a concept that is totally foreign to them.

I just finished reading an article called “Microchips Everywhere: A Future Vision” by Todd Lewan of the Associated Press. I came upon the story innocently enough, browsing technology news items on my cell phone via Verizon’s VZW Today Web 2.0 service.

The thrust of the article is the effect RFID chips will have on our lives in the future. Lewan begins his piece with “Microchips with antennas will be embedded in virtually everything you buy, wear, drive and read, allowing retailers and law enforcement to track consumer items and, by extension, consumers wherever they go, from a distance.”

The article goes on to punctuate this point with a variety of ways RFID technologies are used today and will be used tomorrow—all of which somehow keep track of where you’ve been and what you’ve done.

Tracking You And Your Pets
One RFID device that’s been around for many years, known as EZ-Pass in the New York/New Jersey area where I live and work, makes paying tolls very simple. Ten cars can pass through a toll in the same time as a car whose driver doesn’t have exact change.

But when you receive your EZ-Pass statement at the end of the month, it’s patently obvious that someone knows that you’ve passed through one or more tolls on your way to work or wherever on a particular day.

Dogs and other animals have had RFID tags embedded under their skin for quite some time. My neighbor’s dog Sam, a Wheaton Terrier, has one. It’s not meant to track his every move, although it might some day. But it is useful for identifying him among all of his lookalike brethren.

One day when he escaped from his yard, it became clear after several hours that his disappearance was no ordinary romp around the neighborhood and a return home. After day had turned to night, I felt compelled to drive around the neighborhood to help my distraught neighbor.

I found Sam lying in the far corner of a fenced-in yard about two blocks away, but I couldn’t make a positive ID. Was this really Sam? Luckily, all I had to do was look at the name tag that was still around his neck. I didn’t have to locate an RFID reader to make certain it was him.

Iinstant Location on Tap
But RFID tags aren’t the only electronic devices tracking things nowadays. Lots of gadgets do the same. Cell phones and GPS systems can track a person’s physical location, while home and office PCs can track their users’ movements through cyberspace.

A new company called Air Semiconductor (www.air-semi.com) from Swindon in the U.K. recently announced a technology that will allow lots of other electronic gadgets, such as digital cameras, to start tracking, too. Air’s technology continuously tracks a user’s location. Consequently, it also can provide instant location updates.

The technology is embodied in the Airwave- 1 chip, which brings instant and continuous location technology to portable devices (see the figure). The initial target for the chip is digital cameras, which will be able to automatically geotag images, just the way photos get tagged with a date and time information today.

The company’s proprietary technology utilizes signals from GPS satellites in an innovative way that eliminates the “time-to-firstfix” of conventional GPS receivers, which can be several minutes. It also maintains a constant watch on its location but can almost instantly focus to offer a pinpoint fix. This novel operation provides continuous location tracking and also eliminates the time-to-first-fix. The key to the Airwave-1 is that it requires as little as 1% of the power required by current GPS solutions, consuming just 1 mA when continuously tracking. Besides digital cameras, mobile handsets will be able to run a new generation of autonomous location-sensitive applications. The company expects to release samples of the Airwave-1 this summer and be ready for mass production in 2009.

Where have you gone? Just check your EZ-Pass records, cell phone, digital photos, and anything else you can think of. “We know exactly where you’ve gone” will probably be a better line as these technologies become more pervasive in the future.

TAGS: Microchip
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