Sound-wave technology revolutionizing mobility space

The development of toll roads across India’s cities and its highways opens up a new arena for technology disruption

What does shopping at a supermarket have to do with driving past a toll plaza on a highway? The challenge with both experiences is making it as seamless as possible. At present, it is estimated that India loses USD 21.3 billion annually because of delays and additional fuel consumption at toll plazas. The Indian Government’s project to automate all toll collection is finding common ground with supermarkets across the country, as it looks at digital technologies to make payments as convenient and efficient as possible. 

Retailers have been using Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to prevent shoplifting in recent years, and most consumers are by now familiar with how they work. An item with an RFID tag going past the sensor alerts the personnel of a potential theft. The ability of this technology to track and exchange information with sensors electronically is being used to place tags upon vehicles, allowing RFID readers to track when the vehicle has gone past and total up the toll charges over time. As a form of automated toll collection, RFID is being looked at as a potential solution – but it runs into its own problems.

The need of the hour for automatic toll collection is a system that, in addition to making the process more convenient and efficient, can be applied universally and scaled across thousands of toll collection points across the country. Unfortunately, RFID tags and readers are expensive; the reader costs between USD 500 – 2000, depending upon the range and active tags cost around USD 25 each. With millions of vehicles commuting through toll roads in India every single day, outfitting each toll station with every vehicle with a tag becomes expensive. Moreover, the building of a universal system will require getting standardized receivers and tags, making the entire process more constrained and difficult to easily implement.

On the other hand, Soundwave technology works along the same lines as RFID in terms of convenience, and is cheaper and easier to scale. This technology relies on transmission of information through encrypted sound waves, and user cellphones or small inexpensive tags (costing less than 1USD) can be equipped to transmit the information while going past a toll gate. Soundwave readers are also 50 times cheaper, costing between USD 10 – 25. Further, standardizing this technology across multiple touch-points is substantially easier, since it requires only software updates.

Soundwave technology is already poised to revolutionize the retail experience, and has the potential to allow customers to walk out of stores with their purchases, their payments being seamlessly made through sounds transmitted from a customer’s cell phone. Even our highways and toll plazas could be similarly enhanced, letting Soundwave usher us into a new era of seamless, cashless, efficient, and secure payments.

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