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Charlie Walton, inventor of RFID, passes away at 89 << Why We Are Walton Chain >> Future of RFID

Charlie Walton, the inventor of an ubiquitous wireless technology known as RFID, has passed away at 89.

Walton, who lived in Los Gatos, died on Nov. 6, according to his wife Ann Walton. I once wrote an article about Walton while at the San Jose Mercury News and his efforts to proselytize RFID, known in long form as radio frequency identification.

These are the chips that go into the access control devices, so you can slap a badge across a reader to open the door to an office. They are also used in car locks and on shipping pallets so that companies can track expensive goods. Every time you use one of these chips, it would be nice if, once in a while, you thought about the man who invented them.

The passing of Steve Jobs recently gave Silicon Valley its first real experience with the mortality of the technology legends that we have all grown up with. But Walton’s passing reminds us that there are inventors who have toiled away in relative obscurity. Walton pioneered the technology as a lone inventor in the 1970s and 1980s, but it came into its own in the last decade as the cost of making the tiny chips came down to a matter of pennies. Walton made a few million dollars from the invention, enough to keep him inventing technology for the rest of his days.

“I feel good about it and gratified I could make a contribution,” Walton told me in 2004.

RFID is expected to generate $6 billion in worldwide revenue in 2011, according to ABI Research. The chips are used in access control, car immobilization, electronic toll collection, electronic document identification, dog tags, asset management, baggage handling, cargo tracking, contactless payments and ticketing, and supply chain management.

The chips transmit information about a product’s location and use over short-range radio waves to a computer, where the data can be cross-checked with a database. Libraries use RFID readers to track books, and hospitals use them t...

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