Joost Broersen

Report on Triggered by RFID

After the first Mediamatic RFID workshop from the 13th till the 15th of July 2005

Mediamatics' first Triggered by RFID workshop presented a mix of lecturers, cases, project proposals and technical lessons, and attracted an international group of artists, designers, engineers and educators that shared a desire to gain more insight and hands-on experience with RFID technology.


Rob van Kranenburg at Triggered by RFID - Mediamatic RFID workshop 2005

Half the participants were a good bit underway in developing their RFID related projects, allthough some of the project ideas really pushed the boundaries of what is possible with RFID today (if you don't happen to sit on big bags of money) The other half of the participants had registered to satisfy a more general desire for knowledge, contacts and ideas in relation to RFID. Rob van Kranenburg presented some of the social issues related to RFID and framed them in their techno-social context. Allthough privacy notions and -issues are obviously of great importance, not all of the wet dreams of world wide tracking-and-tracing seemed realistic for the near future. He called upon the participants to not only develop RFID applications, but also alternative scenarios for dealing with big scale RFID implementation that we will witness in the near future.

Van Gils, the main technical coach of the workshop, gave a quick run-through of the historical development of RFID technology and presented the current technical possibilities of RFID from the high-end worldwide logistical systems down to local do-it-yourself tools. What he made clear is that certainly at the low end of the market there are no standards for RFID techniques. Readers ('trancievers) become increasingly cheap, but vary greatly in performance. Tags ('transponders') come in a wide variety of flavours, all with different specs and optimal areas of application. He offered practical examples an tips on the use of low-end RFID equipment, demonstrated what is possible, and maybe even more important: what is impossible. To close the day, the participants re-formulated their research questions on the base of their new knowledge.

Alternative uses of RFID in everyday life was the main theme in the morning session of day 2. Techno artist Marcus Kirsch presented his RFID project proposal: Urban Eyes. Urban eyes is designed as a combination of two networks: the CCTV network and the pigeon population. Together they provide an alternative view on the city. Doves will be fed grains with embedded RFID chips, that trigger recording of monitoring cameras throughout the city, on the base of chips’ proximity.

Rogier IJzermans is a HKU student who writes his master thesis on a RFID usability scenario to be implemented in supermarkets. His presentation brought the workshop focus temporarily on designing alternative uses for existing implementations, instead of designing whole applications. None of the participants, however, pursued this into a workshop project. In the next workshop, we'll pay more attention to this 'alternative uses' line of approach. Daniel van Gils took the participants deeper into commonly available supporting technologies. Linking tag identities with the behaviour of mediafiles using Lingo, Max or Processing gave the basic set-up for a whole range of possible media installations in which objects or people can be tagged, and can thereby trigger events.

At the third and last workshop day, HKU students Virtual Theatre and Games, Sander Lammers, Nadia Karroue and Mark Post gave us a look behind the baffles of their RFID project Soundtrackers. Soundtrackers is a location game for kids, in which RFID tags are used to locate sounds in the game space. In the game, the sounds are emitted by invisible creatures that the players have to try to catch, and research at a lab. The clear research questions of the project helped to see the real possibilities and limitations of creative RFID projects. The next and last speaker, Matt Karau, brought his vision and extensive experience with RFID projects into the picture. Together with van Gils, he was able to bring all workshop projects a couple of steps ahead in their development. To name a few: Soundtrackers went home with a consise list of options for realising their plans. Valentina Nisi worked out the relation between the GPS part and the RFID part for her location based story project. Axel Vogelsang found out his project ideas were indeed feasable and assessed that RFID was the appropriate tecnology for his project. Markus Kirsch found out how to link a tag to camera behaviour, allthough the pigeons are not under control yet. And we're all looking forward to Robbert Ritmeesters burocracy projects, in which tagged paper will be moved around desks and trigger disastrous administrative procedures.