FALL CTIA: Auto industry may embrace RFID by 2008

The automobile industry will be using radio frequency identification ( RFID) technology to track parts throughout its supply chain within three to five years – and automobiles produced during that same time frame will feature built-in wireless systems, according to Anthony Scott, chief technology office at General Motors Corp.

On a more immediate note, Scott said GM has decided to migrate all of its desktop computers worldwide – between 110,000 and 120,000 of them – to Office 2003, which Microsoft Corp. introduced this week.

Scott, a speaker at the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association annual Wireless IT and Entertainment conference in Las Vegas, said at a lunch Wednesday for reporters that GM decided to move to Office 2003 because of its built-in XML capabilities. GM, Scott said, has “a lot of XML-enabled applications.”

The automaker, however, will not change its operating system on those desktops, Scott said. It will stick with Windows 2000 for now, though at some future date it does plan to move to to Windows XP or an updated version of that operating system.

As for the RFID technology, which stores supply-chain data on small tags equipped with antennas, Scott said he expects the entire automobile industry to eventually embrace it in the same way Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to use RFID tags in its supply chain. “It will happen,” Scott said, adding that the use of the tags will require backing from the entire automobile industry. Scott said GM has already worked with the MIT Auto-ID Center on the development of standards for the tags’ use.

He also predicted that GM will deploy some kind of short-range, high-bandwidth technology such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or Ultrawideband technology in automobiles within three to five years, starting first with high-end vehicles and then moving the technology throughout its line. These built-in wireless systems could be used for diagnostics and to help consumers transfer MP3 audio files between home and car stereo systems.

Consumers, he said, “will demand” this kind of wireless connectivity.

And on a different topics, he said remote GM workers now use a wide range of devices to access corporate networks – including BlackBerry pagers from Research In Motion Ltd., handhelds from Palm Inc. and notebook computers from Hewlett-Packard Co. As a result, the company has determined the only way it can support such a variety of access devices is through the use of middleware, which allows any device to access corporate applications and e-mail.

GM uses middleware from both Extended Systems Inc. in Boise, Idaho, and Synchrologic Inc. in Atlanta. These companies provide the automaker with the software that “connects applications to end devices,” Scott said.