So, RFID is about to reach the tipping point. How do I know this? UPS is running a commercial where the “boxes know they are lost…” (funny spot BTW). I have seen at least three headlines in the last two days that announced the smart beer coaster. Even the conspiracy theorists have gotten on the bus. Soon enough, it’ll be the topic of conversation around the watercoolers and copy machines.

But, before we get all excited about being able to keep track of our socks while they are in the drier…or, before we get all paranoid/geeked about it…can we think big picture?


What if we could use RFID to end traffic congestion? Why do we need stoplights and stopsigns? Why not golights and gosigns? All traffic control is geared to stop the vehicles in order to move it along. That seems counter-intuitive and counter-productive to me. Instead of having the cars stop, why can’t we let them go?

In simple terms, here’s how I propose we do it. Every vehicle gets an RFID chip. Every traffic control unit (the large metal box on the corner at every intersection) and signal device gets an RFID Reader and a computer processor. Cars move back and forth as always. The algorithm in the computer would take the RFID signals form the nearby vehicles and calculate, based on speed, direction, and amount of flow, the timing of the lights/signals. Signals today are controlled as a result of sensors in the pavement. Car trips the sensor, the stoplight changes. How many times, however, does the primary artery of traffic have to stop because one car moving in the perpendicular direction rolls up to the sensor and trips the stoplight? Lots of times. It is a faulty system. Instead, the RFID reader and computer controller could “read” that several cars are approaching from the easterly direction, while only a single car is approaching from the northerly or southerly direction, and then adjust the timing of the light to keep the cars moving, instead of stopped.

Think of the productivity gains. Less time in commutes. Less time cars sit and idle at stoplights while the pollution spews. Less accidents. It is a Panacea.

Yes. There are hurdles to overcome. Cost is one. Putting a $.10 widget on every car will add up. Putting a competent brain at every intersection is expensive. And, since we’re talking about cars hurtling at a high rate of speed, there is ZERO tolerance for the BSOD. No computer crashes can be allowed. Lastly, the civil libertarians would have their usual freak about privacy issues. To which I’d say, “if you don’t want the gov’t knowing you drove down that street, then invent something better.”

Despite the hurdles, I’m thinking the day could be close at hand where traffic jams could be eradicated. That is a day I’D like to see…

Copyright (c) 2005 Jamoker. All rights reserved.

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