RFID has long been touted as the future of logistics for all companies by allowing retailers and suppliers to track goods throughout the supply chain.
Progress has already been made towards development and implementation of a standard electronic track-and-trace system, in particular using radio-frequency identification (RFID) for widespread use in the drug distribution system. Significant advances are also being made in developing an electronic pedigree (chain of custody) for drugs,
However high prices for tags and systems has held enthusiasm at bay as has consumer fears relating to privacy and technical snags, such as the lack of a common standard, have also hurt the adoption of the technology.
A shakeout is due in an industry suffering from the immaturity of the technology, according to a report by ABI Research. The firm believes many companies are only now realising that data management is key to the technology rather than the tags and readers, previously regarded as the "business end" of RFID.
However, the pharmaceutical industry has become a working model of how RFID can contribute to logistics. Such measures adopted include increasing its use of anti-counterfeiting technologies such as holograms, colour shifting inks and covert markings on products and packaging, in addition to starting pilot studies on RFID.
Auto-ID, a consortium of universities around the world, aims to create a global system for tracking goods using a single numbering system called the "Electronic Product Code" (EPC).
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Auto-ID Lab is part of a federation of six universities around the world engaged with the EPCGlobal standards organisation in developing the products, systems and standards necessary to form an integrated system for global commerce.
EPCglobal Network, a non-profit organisation whose members include food processors, is currently working on integrating the standards to allow companies along the supply chain to manage and share data.
"EPCglobal has requested us to build this," John Williams, MIT's Auto-ID Lab director told RFID Journal in an interview. "So MIT will do the first draft of the system and then coordinate with the other Auto-ID Labs from around the world to build a distributed version that will span country boundaries.
The lab will use the system to predict the flow of data from RFID tags, and to develop data protection and privacy controls. The information will be used to guide the design of the EPCglobalNetwork.
Williams expects the test project to be completed by October 2006, RFID Journal reported.
MIT is part of the Auto-ID programme along with the University of Cambridge, University of Adelaide, Keio University, Fudan University and the University of St. Gallen.