Welcome to the world of A Scanner Darkly
-- made real. In March, a group of students at the University of Washington will put RFID tags (small radio-frequency emitting computer chips) all over their clothes and belongings. RFID readers that scan and track the tags will be installed throughout the campus' 6-story Paul Allen Building for computer science (pictured here). Every move the students make, and many objects they interact with, will be monitored and logged. Plus, students will test a "friend finding" application called RFIDer that will allow them to monitor their friends' whereabouts at all times. Participants are eager to volunteer, and call the experience a glimpse into the future. What could possibly be motivating them?
According to the University of Washington news service:
To see what this future world would be like, a pilot project involving dozens of volunteers in the University of Washington's computer science building provides the next step in social networking, wirelessly monitoring people and things in a closed environment. Beginning in March, volunteer students, engineers and staff will wear electronic tags on their clothing and belongings to sense their location every five seconds throughout much of the six-story building. The information will be saved to a database, published to Web pages and used in various custom tools. The project is one of the largest experiments looking at wireless tags in a social setting.
Shaf's take: I have been working with vendors of RFID tags and location-based services, primarily for asset tracking and inventory monitoring. This experiment takes the technology into intrusive territory. Big Brother is watching!
The RFID Ecosystem project aims to create a world that many technology experts predict is just on the horizon, said project leader Magda Balazinska, a UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering. The project explores the use of radio-frequency identification, or RFID, tags in a social environment. The team has installed some 200 antennas in the Paul Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering. Early next month researchers will begin recruiting 50 volunteers from about 400 people who regularly use the building.
"Our goal is to ask what benefits can we get out of this technology and how can we protect people's privacy at the same time," Balazinska said. "We want to get a handle on the issues that would crop up if these systems become a reality." . . . The pilot study will incorporate two new student-developed features that aim to exploit the system's potential benefits. One invention is a tool that records a person's movements in Google Calendar. Study participants can set the system to instantaneously publish activities on their Web calendar, such as arrival at work, meetings or lunch breaks.