IT'S A COMFORTABLE professional environment, designing new solutions with existing strategies and building blocks. We know the pitfalls and the work-arounds. For traditional projects, these techniques may well remain appropriate. But change is afoot.
New developments hold the potential forindeed, will demandnew thinking. Increasingly, were going to see new types of sensors, controls and process elements, some at the molecular levelnanotech motors, enzymes and capillary-action chips are examples. And more Internet connectivity than ever.
New solution thinking, new toolsnew building blockswill be required for competitive advantage. So will new precautions.
Clothes, Cars and RFID
New technologies are joining old to create systems where individual stand-alone products once ruled. Whirlpool, Panasonic and Microsoft are embarked on a project to get washers and driers not only to sense the conditions of laundry loadshow heavy, how dirty, how wetbut also to alert users via email or cell phone when a load is nearing completion and ready to be moved to the dryer. If individual items are equipped with RFID chips, the washer will be able to sense automatically what fabric they are made of and what the appropriate water temperature is for best cleaning.
The most cutting-edge cars, such as my new Prius, have eliminated the key and all the nuisances surrounding it. Because the key is an RFID-equipped fob, it sends an encrypted signal to the car to unlock it, and all I have to do is walk up to the door and open it. The same key lets the car know that Im positioned in the drivers seat and lets me boot up all the cars computers to start operation.
Boot-up?? Yes, I dont actually start the Prius; I just push a button that literally boots up the myriad computers that then do all the work. In fact, the gasoline engine doesnt necessarily start as I back out of a parking space (but that also introduces an awareness problem for pedestrians, who dont get the normal cue of a noisy engine to look around). I never have to stick a key in the steering wheel column. Pretty cool stuff.
But new technology creates new problems. Some testers of the new laundry system wonder if email notification of load status isnt an unnecessary bell- and-whistle. More seriously, RIFD tags raise a whole myriad of concerns about privacy and security. Who else besides my washing machine can read the condition of my clothes from the tags? Do I care if they can? If the tags are sending information about my car into the electronic ether, who besides the cars computer is reading it, and what will they do with the information? In the past, short of physically plugging a diagnostic computer into the car, it was deaf, dumb, and blind to the surrounding world. But with the addition of communicative systems the car is now reaching out and touching.
Depending on the care with which car communication systems are designed, they may open a path into the car for viruses or malware. Researchers at Amsterdam Free University say infected RFID tags can send viruses to back-end databases and spread it to other RFID tags. Not a pretty thought.
This is not to say that RFID systems have to be dangerous, but like Wi-Fi before them, initial RFID implementations dont include strong security schemes that expect malicious attacks. They should.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Every new technology introduces both benefits and dangers. As new solution building blocks become available, we have to be aware of not only their benefits, but also limitations and dangers their designers havent considered.
After all, although the scenario seems improbable, Id hate to see the chip in a maliciously altered ID card change the way your next automation system operates...
|Abuot the Author|