RFID takes the highway

RFID technology could someday tell you where to get off - off of the highway, that is.

Currently, RFID systems for paying tolls, such as E-Z Pass in the Northeast, only check your location and charge a toll when you pass through a toll plaza. However, the technology could do much more than take your money. The sensors could eventually be placed along highways and track traffic flows to help alleviate congestion. "In the future instead of just positioning your car in the toll booth it will position it everywhere on the road," says Mike Stonebreaker, adjunct professor of computer science at MIT. He says that California is already experimenting with the concept of "congestion-based tolling," where tolls change based on the number of cars flowing on the road between exits. Eventually, this concept could be extended to enable intelligent routing of traffic flows through city streets and traffic lights, he predicts.

The challenge, Stonebreaker says, will be processing the massive volumes of data that will flow in continuously from sensors that are tracking millions of vehicles per day.

When that happens, Stonebreaker will be ready to profit from it. A startup he helped launch, Lexington, Mass.-based StreamBase Systems, offers a data stream processing system that can filter through and quickly tabulate high volumes of streaming data in real time. Stream processing tools have moved out of research labs in recent years and are just catching on for use in high volume applications such as online trading.  Stonebreaker, who is also StreamBase's chief technology officer, hopes large scale sensor networks will be the next killer application.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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