Why Use A GPS Satellite When You Can Use 10,000 RFID Chips?

from the just-wondering dept

The well known Ginza shopping district of Tokyo is apparently about to get blanketed in approximately 10,000 RFID chips designed to help tourists and shoppers find their way around the neighborhood. The system requires a special handheld terminal to communicate with the RFIDs to tell you where you are, where you’re going and what’s around. However, overall this seems like a fairly inefficient method for doing location-based information. There are plenty of other tools out there, from GPS satellites to basic cellular triangulation. RFID chips certainly have some nice uses, but this one seems like a waste. While there certainly are limitations to GPS (especially around tall buildings), it still seems like this implementation doesn’t make that much sense. The fact that users need to get a special device to read things just seems pointless. You could accomplish the same sort of thing using cameraphone bar code scanners on an ordinary mobile phone, without forcing people to find this special reader device.

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Why Use A GPS Satellite When You Can Use 10,000 RFID Chips?”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
PhysicsGuy says:

The fact that users need to get a special device to read things just seems pointless.

that’s the most idiotic argument ever. why not stop all new technology because it might require a new device.

You could accomplish the same sort of thing using cameraphone bar code scanners on an ordinary mobile phone, without forcing people to find this special reader device.

how about compatibility? how about people who would rather not use their cell phone, for fear of excessive billing, in another part of the world? what’s to say that everyone even gets service in japan? i’d say to make this as useful as possible it would come down to allowing as many people as possible to use the service. it seems to me this is best accomplished with unique devices that don’t rely on people having a certain preexisting technology. sure, they may need to purchase or rent (which hopefully you’d be able to do) a new device, but then it’s available for EVERYONE, not just people with cell phones. i’d much rather buy one of these devices to find my way around japan rather than buying a cell phone just to find my way around japan. because remember it’s “designed to help tourists and shoppers find their way around the neighborhood.”

DV Henkel-Wallace (profile) says:


Mike, GPS doesn’t have the necessary resolution, nor does it scale (or really even reach) into a shopping mall.

This is an attempt to jump-start a technology via the most expensive shopping section of one of the world’s most expensive cities. Folks in the Japanese electronics industry have wanted to do this for years (back in ’00 I was talking with XXX about using bluetooth to do it….but never sent in a bid. Guess that was lucky).

I think the reason for not using phones is, sadly, push rather than pull. That’s right, they want to passively trigger ads in the terminal. (Physics guy, the phone infrastructure is different in Japan — the argument isn’t the same as it is here).

Tyshaun says:



First of all, remember this is Japan, are US and european cell phones even compatible with the Japanese network (if not, most tourists wouldn’t even bother taking them on the trip)?

Also, GPS is a US technology and I can see how a foreign country might want to seek out solutions that don’t rely on it if possible. Up until the year 2000 or so, the US intentionally made GPS systems slightly less accurate in civilian applications (part of the “selective availability” ability of GPS), in order to prevent potential enemies to use it for things like guiding missiles and stuff (we still maintain the ability to do that and also block GPS in regions of the world if neccessary). Who’s to say with our current “war on terrorism” that the administration won’t decide to reinstate selective availability or stop the GPS signal in areas not in direct US control? I didn’t think we’d invade two soverign countries, but we did do that, and the only reason why we ever turned off “selective availability” (which was part of the original deployment of GPS) was because the FAA pressured the DOD into keeping it off after the Gulf War to make their life easier.


At any rate, the main poblem with “Selective availability” was that it introduced sufficient error to make GPS not very useful in small areas (say trying to navigate a downton street mall or something). If the point of the Japanese system was to give tourists info and directions, a GPS with “selective availability” enabled would limit the granularity of the information/directions that could be given.

Also, proprietary hardware means greater profits for the government. Let’s remember that this is potentially a nice revenue stream for the people running this system and the revenue can also go towards personnel and hardware costs to maintin the system. I suspect this is a major impetus to implement the system in the first place, to fleece more money from tourists.

Arochone (user link) says:

GPS doesn't have the resolution?

Just wanna say, IIRC, that GPS is accurate down to about 3 feet. If that’s not enough accuracy to get you around a shopping mall, you got some SERIOUS eye problems. I’d say as long as it can get you within 30 feet you should be good.

Sounds to me like these RFID tags are gonna be used as a smaller, hidden version of the ‘you are here’ signs. Based on the range of RFID, you’ll probably have to be standing in a certain spot to get a reading. Might as well just put up maps. They’re a lot easier to use, not to mention cheaper.

TechnoLord says:

That's Ignorant!

Mike, I can’t believe you’d make such an idiotic argument. It’s obviously based in emotion and not fact. Clearly your assertion that GPS is be a superior form of location technology since RFID location (which IS cell triangulation) would require the consumer to purchase a ‘new’ device is fundamentally flawed as GPS requires the purchase of a device in order to receive a satellite signal.

Further, you said it seems like a waste….Hmmm…REALLY? Is it???? That’s an uneducated statement Mike. While GPS can only display a dot on a screen to tell you where you’re at, RFID tags can contain much, much more data such as location or venue information, item pricing, etc. So, as the user is walking the steets of Tokyo he can look at this device and know where he’s at on the map and perhaps in a sidebar the names of the stores that he’s passing while the RFID tag the store is using for the location device is also providing to the user a quick ad concerning a sale or special of the day.

Far more useful than GPS I’d say. But that’s just me…

Now run along and go play with your pet stegosaurus…

Chestnutsroastingonanopenfire says:

GPS, Japan, Cellphones

Ok, I live in Tokyo so I had to comment on this.

First, most new cellphones on sale now in Japan have GPS built in as a standard feature. This is true for DoCoMo, AU, and to some extend even SoftBank (ex Vodaphone). There was even some pressure from the government here that GPS was a necessary service for carriers to provide vis a vis disaster relief or accidents etc. Most cell phones include a software function which uses the GPS for family members to track each other (mainly an excuse to sell more cellphones to young children though.) It should be pointed out that each of the three carriers use a proprietary cell system, protocol included, and dictate cellphone features to the phone manufacturers, making each phone only compatible with that carrier, though Softbank as ex-Vodaphone, has some level of international portability.

Regarding the accuracy of phone GPS here, however ( I use it often by the way), is bad, in that it can be up to a block off, which can be really confusing when you are looking for a particular shop in the back streets of Ginza, and yes it is useless indoors. So, RFID would be great *if* the cell phone I carry also happened to pick up the RFID signal too.

If you noticed, the parent company (or half, as there is an NTT West, see ‘monopoly’) of the group including DoCoMo (#1 carrier here), NTT East, is part of the project, and with the government involved, *and* with a type of IC tag allready a standard feature in many cellphones, again all three carriers (including e-wallet applications and commuter train pass applications), one can conclude that this project might be precurser to the inclusion of the functionality in cellphones at some point in the future.

On the other hand, the Japanese tech industry does have a long history of spending lots of money on projects which base everything on brand spanking new, untried devices with no advance research into wether or not the consumer has any interest in using said device, and then crashing and burning, usually as quietly as possible. Recent candidates include ‘Moba-Ho’ and digital radio, and there are countless e-book readers and PDA like devices providing gainful employment to many a recycling firm.

Then again, this *is* advanced research. Ginza has historical precident as being the first place in Japan to feature electric street lamps, thus the choice as location for this test.

Eugene (user link) says:

Meet Prof Ken Sakamura, the man behind the Ginza p

This is an interesting project combining Wi Fi, Bluetooth, Internet and RFID technologies in a lifestyle application for the general public in with multi-lingual support for tourists. It’s a bold effort to push the envelope and test knowledge from lab to a real life scenario outside of normal supply chain and manufacturing environments. Worth a look at. The trial ends in March.

If you’re serious about RFID and would like to find out about the results and meet the man heading the project, Professor Ken Sakamura from Tokyo University will be presenting this case as a distinguished speaker at the RFID World Asia 2007 executive conference.

RFID World Asia 2007 is the region’s largest gathering of RFID practitioners and related professionals coming together to promote responsible RFID adoption and development with an emphasis on achieving quick ROI and sustainable business value. This premier conference and expo will be held in Singapore – April 25 – 27.

To find out more visit:

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...