Not so long ago, we adopted a family pet from a local animal shelter. I was surprised to learn that all animals adopted from the center have a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip injected under their skin, just behind the shoulders. The chip contains an ID number that can be used to identify the animal if it is lost. The RFID scanning devices have become inexpensive enough that most vets and animal control officers now have one. By entering the serial number stored on the chip, they can retrieve the animal's history and address from a Petfinder Web site. For me, this realization was an "aha" moment. You know a technology is starting to mature when animal shelters and the local dog catcher - who are not usually early adopters of technology - get into the game.

The emergence of auto-identification (auto-ID) technology is a major part of a larger trend that combines the virtual world of the Internet with the world of physical objects. Although RFID is the most prominent, there is a broader range of auto-ID technologies that includes real-time location systems (RTLSs) that report the location of objects and various sensing technologies such as ZigBee that allow networks of inexpensive sensors to communicate anything that can be measured by machines. In contrast to the high profile emergence of e-commerce, auto-ID applications have been called "silent commerce" or the "Internet of things." Technology watchers such as Gartner and Forrester have different names for this idea, but the trend is unmistakable. The ability to track the location and state of physical objects through embedded devices that can be read by computers will change our world.

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