Long checkout lines at the grocery store are one of the biggest complaints about the shopping experience. By 2005, these lines could disappear when the ubiquitous Universal Product Code (UPC) bar code is replaced by smart labels, also called radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. RFID tags are intelligent bar codes that can talk to a networked system to track every product that you put in your shopping cart.


Photo courtesy Motorola
Smart labels like Motorola's BiStatix tags will enable manufacturers to track their products at all times.

Imagine going to the grocery store, filling up your cart and walking right out the door. No longer will you have to wait as someone rings up each item in your cart one at at time. Instead, these RFID tags will communicate with an electronic reader that will detect every item in the cart and ring each up almost instantly. The reader will be connected to a large network that will send information on your products to the retailer and product manufacturers. Your bank will then be notified and the amount of the bill will be deducted from your account. No lines, no waiting.

RFID tags, a technology once limited to tracking cattle, will soon be tracking trillions of consumer products worldwide. Manufacturers will know the location of each product they make from the time it's made until it's used and tossed in the recycle bin or trash can. In this edition of How Stuff WILL Work, you'll learn about the types of RFID tags in development and how these smart labels will be tracked through the entire supply chain.