Keep an eye on the nascent radio frequency identification industry. It will have a significant effect on society in general and on the meeting industry specifically in the next few years.

RFID tags are tiny computer chips, often about the size of a pinhead. Like a bar code, they contain a database of information, but RFID tags are faster, more reliable, and can hold more data. Most importantly, when a tag comes within range of a reader (a transceiver), the information on the tag is captured via radio frequency waves. RFID's signal can transmit through human bodies, clothing, and other nonmetallic materials without the reader having a direct line of sight with the tag.

An entire pallet of product or a cart full of groceries, for example, can be scanned automatically in a second compared to what would take minutes or hours to do with a barcode scanner.

In the not-too-distant future, an RFID reader in your car will sense the RFID tag in your pocket, unlock the car, set the seats/mirrors, and even turn on the car as you approach. The door to your home will unlock and open as you approach, turn on your custom set of lights, and play the music that you have selected in advance.

Plenty for Meetings

The applications for the meeting industry are numerous.

Virtually anywhere that name badges are checked or where names are exchanged, RFID technology will be there.

  • Today's optical scanners or mag stripe badges are cumbersome, time-consuming, and intrusive. RFID is faster and can be tuned to specific read ranges. For example, it can be set at a 5-foot range to track anyone going by your booth, or to a 5-inch range to track specific badges.

  • Scanners at a convention or conference facility or at meeting room entrances can instantly verify that a person has legitimate access to a meeting.

  • Attendees can be tracked automatically when they enter and exit a room for continuing education unit tracking.

  • Cyber cafés could give access based on sensing your RFID tag, making it unnecessary to type in your name. If there is a message waiting for you, the monitor could automatically flash your name.

  • Pickup of registration materials could be easily monitored.

  • VIPs can be tracked, notifying staff or key sales people when they have come within range.

Resistance Is Likely

There are several challenges to the widespread adoption of RFID technology.

First, the price is high compared to that of bar codes, currently ranging from five cents per tag for huge quantity orders to more than $3. The cost will drop to a fraction of a cent when methods of printing the tags on paper are refined.

Secondly, there are concerns about privacy: Some people will be reluctant to wear a badge that can track their movements and reveal information without notifying them.

Finally, there is the natural human resistance to change: In the same way that people initially resisted using automated teller bank machines, people will resist this RFID technology, citing privacy, security, and other concerns.

People don't like change, but in the same way that ATMs have come to be commonplace, RFID tags will see widespread deployment in the next few years because of the significant increases in efficiency that they offer.

Corbin Ball, CMP, is a consultant, writer, and speaker focusing on events and meeting technology.