Efficiency.

Everybody wants it — so we believe. You know the kind of efficiency we mean: the kind where it takes fewer people (or none) to perform a task faster, or better, or more cheaply, or all three.

We're RF folks, so we like to take the view that the world revolves around RF. For example, if it weren't for RF, those wireless telephones wouldn't work. Everyone likes to use them to make their business and personal lives so doggoned efficient. We know (but we just don't like to talk about it much, lest it take the spotlight away from RF) those wireless handsets and networks wouldn't be possible without a heavy dose of computerization, too.

And here comes the RF-and-computer partnership for more efficiency, thanks to embedded systems. Consider a typical warehouse, for example.

Bar codes, laser readers and wireless local area networks already have made finding and taking inventory much more efficient. A wave of the wand on the bar code label and, presto, gadgets have been counted and widgets have been totaled and the host computer has updated the inventory. Thievery … sorry, inventory shrinkage … will be a thing of the past. Uh-oh. What's that little pile of RFID tags on the shelf where the gold-plated galoosies were stacked?

Next, RF ID tags on those gadgets and widgets will make it unnecessary for a worker to wave that wand. With enough distributed RF readers to illuminate the warehouse, those gadgets and widgets will announce their presence anytime the computer inquires, and that might be on automatic cycles.

We visited the Lawrence, KS, police department, where 802.11b gateways are deployed in police cruisers so officers can access the department's main computer via nine base stations throughout the city. No longer do they have to stop by police headquarters to use a workstation.

We take friendly smiles where we can find them, even on supermarket cashiers. But who needs cashiers when RFID tags on foodstuffs make it possible for detector gates to list your purchases, calculate the bill and debit your credit card? Or is it “credit your debit card?” I never keep the difference straight.

When RFID tags invade books, what happens to librarians? If you're inclined to let paper do what Internet-fired electrons could, those ID-tagged books and magazines may no longer pass the critical eye of a library worker at checkout. Your eclectic reading habits still will be recorded for possible future investigation, but no one will be there to raise an eyebrow as you lug your booty through the detector, the computer electronically tallies your literary choices and deftly lifts from your electronic wallet an amount equivalent to the fine you owe.

Where this all will lead is more interaction with devices and less interaction with people. But if you're not already getting used to that, where have you been?

As for us, we cheer ourselves with the reminder that the more efficiency that RF brings us at work, when we shop and when we do our chores, the more we can enjoy our leisure — if only we could find the time.