Ubiquitous Wi-Fi's end game

Coupled with RFID and mesh networks, Wi-Fi chips hold promise to track down everything -- and everyone

Call it the proverbial canary in the coal mine or a leading indicator, but what Wi-Fi chip designer AeroScout announced this week in cooperation with the U.S. Air Force points to our future.

Because as Wi-Fi becomes ubiquitous and combines further with mesh networks, RFID, and GPS, we are sure to witness dramatic changes in our society.

And I'm not sure it will all be to the good.

Using currently available GPS chips, Wi-Fi, and high-gain antennas, AeroScout will give the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) the ability to locate any aircraft and any aircraft part left anywhere within the confines of its 110-million-square-foot desert facility, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, in Arizona.

[ See where the Feds rank on our "Top 10 reasons to be paranoid." ]

When complete, AeroScout's technology will do this with GPS chips attached to thousands of pieces of equipment. Yet, thanks to the high-gain antennas, the system only requires 42 Wi-Fi access points.

Besides broadcasting the position of equipment to AMARG's Wi-Fi network, the battery-operated GPS systems include motion sensors and on-board thermometers within the chip design to enable AMARG managers to track the location, condition, and status of parts from a single network.

Add the increasing value proposition of mesh, and you just might see where this technology is heading.

Mesh: Data's bucket brigade

What makes the mesh-network specification particularly unique is its bucket-brigade architecture, which passes data from node to node until it lands at its end point.

The significance of mesh for both the enterprise and municipalities is the lower cost of deploying a wireless network outdoors. Mesh does not require each access point to be hardwired to an Ethernet connection. In addition to cost savings, the time to lay out such a wireless network is also greatly reduced.

Once the price and ease-of-use of mesh comes down, the availability of the technology will increase a hundredfold. We will surely witness more and more uses for this integration of technologies.

Cisco already has wireless access points, each with two radios. The Wi-Fi radio handles access, and the second radio is dedicated to wireless interconnectivity, or the meshing across wireless and wired access points.

Along with this hardware, Cisco also deploys AWPP (Adaptive Wireless Path Protocol), essentially its algorithm for selecting the best data path among the many access points laid out in a coverage area.

Combined with RFID, increasingly expansive mesh networks will describe a future in which nothing -- or everything -- is lost.

Total location awareness

Already miniaturized to the size of a grain of rice, RFID chips will communicate over mesh networks hopping from Wi-Fi-enabled device to Wi-Fi-enabled device until it reaches its end point. Every product will soon come with an embedded GPS or RFID chip so well hidden that a thief will never suspect it is there.

In 20 years, maybe less, it will be extremely difficult to steal anything. What's the sense of robbing a house and taking the flat-panel TV if you would have to take it apart to find and disable the locator chip?

In fact, the embedded chips in stolen goods would use the thieves' own Wi-Fi-enabled devices to hop across the network to reveal the location of the stash.

I'll take it one step further: How can you kidnap someone if they have a chip embedded somewhere under their skin? Chips are easily implanted under the skin by the equivalent of an inoculation.

Of course, you know that an elite unit of the Attorney General's office in Mexico City had verification chips embedded in the upper arms of 160 officers as a means of securing access to its anti-crime datacenter.

According to a report published in the Washington Post, about 1,000 patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease have been implanted with an RFID chip.

It goes without saying that everything from losing your glasses or your passport and your wallet will be a thing of the past.

My guess is that the only thing that will disappear is cold, hard cash. If every person is tagged, it will be quite convenient for the cost of whatever you buy to be taken out of your bank account or charged to your credit card automatically because your chip will identify you as a unique individual.

We will live in a world where everything and everyone is accounted for. Product lifecycle management will have to move over and make room for people lifecycle management, tracked from birth to death with our location known at every moment.

Known by whom? That's the question.

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