Microsoft taps RFID for Tech.Ed delegates

RFID tags will be embedded into badges at the annual conference in Sydney as part of a tracking experiment. Those who opt out will have less access to conference info.

Microsoft on Monday announced plans to track Australian delegates attending its annual Tech.Ed conference in Sydney next week using RFID tags embedded in conference badges.

The move comes months after 50 academics, researchers and students at the University of Washington (UW) began a social networking experiment, which has seen participants voluntarily tag themselves. The system records the location of tags every 5 seconds and publishes movements to a Web page.

In Australia, human-targeted deployments of RFID tags have largely been limited to state prison systems. ACT Corrective Services in April said it had commissioned U.S. RFID provider Alanco and NEC Australia to install a Wi-Fi-compatible inmate-tracking system within its walls.

Microsoft's social experiment can take place only over the five days of the conference, although it could involve a much larger sample size than the UW experiment, with the conference typically attracting no fewer than 1,000 delegates.

The software giant will allow delegates to opt out of the tracking experiment, but they will be enticed to participate with the offer of greater access to conference information. Delegates who opt out will have standard barcodes printed on their badges instead.

The benefits promoted to delegates to partake the RFID tag experiment include access to real-time information on when sessions are filling up, the ability to see what sessions others are interested in, and tracking where Microsoft so-called MVPs (most valuable players) and regional directors are.

Microsoft will also track sessions that each delegate attends and will use that information to customize sessions, the company said in a press statement. It will also send delegates an instant record of what sessions they have attended.

The RFID tracking system took just three weeks to build and deploy, according to Microsoft.

Research firm IDC has predicted that usage of RFID tags by business would rise by 122 percent in 2009. The track and trace chips were used in 8 percent of companies last year, while 18 percent of them expect to use it in 2009.

Microsoft was unable to respond to ZDNet Asia's sister site ZDNet Australia at the time of writing.

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