“Late, lost and misrouted airline luggage may soon be a thing of the past…”

That’s the claim of a Texas Instruments (TXN) press release...from 1999.

Clearly, a bit ambitious.

Today, after 17 years of development, this promise may finally be a reality.

More importantly, it will signal the start of one major, disruptive, and lucrative growth trend over the next five years.

The 3 Cent Tech Device Changing The World

Back in 1999 Texas Instruments teamed up with British Airways to provide Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tracking of all the bags.

The test didn’t turn out nearly as well as hoped.

We’re not saying it didn’t work (there’s no press release we can find that says it didn’t).

We just suspect it wasn’t worth the price.

Do you remember how much electronics cost in 1999?

A decent-performing laptop would set you back $4,000 or $5,000 easily.

RFID devices were just as relatively expensive and just weren’t cheap enough to make RFID bag-tracking worth it.

I mean, how many people would pay an extra $5 to know when your bag is going to come out on the conveyor belt rather just sit and watch?

Texas Instruments and British Airways probably found there weren’t many takers at that price.

Jump ahead to today. Everything has changed completely.

The promise of RFID is now a reality because of two reasons.

The original RFID technology used in key cards, warehouses, and elsewhere looks like this:

RFID

They’ve been around for years.

The base cost of this RFID technology runs well into $10+ range.

The latest innovation in RFID looks much different.

It’s called “Smart Labels” now.

See if you can spot it (source):

smart label

See the question mark-looking white line in the grey patch?

That’s the smart label on the back of an airline bag ticket from Delta Airlines (DAL).

It’s ultra-thin, barely noticeable, and, most importantly, ludicrously cheap.

The RFID tech in the plastic key fob cost between $5 and $20, in the smart label costs as little as three cents.

Again, that’s just three cents.

The three cent smart label can provide the RFID signal to track the bag throughout the baggage process.

When connected to an app -- like Delta Airlines announced it will be putting out later this year -- the owner of the bag can easily follow the bag throughout the airport to the point of knowing when it’s next coming out onto baggage claim.

Problems Equal Profits

Granted, it’s something small.

But for the price, it’s definitely worth it.

When it would have cost $5, it wasn’t worth it.

At three cents, who wouldn’t want it?

And this is just airlines and bags.

The options for smart label technology are endless.

Supermarkets, warehouses, and pretty much everything else can now be tracked easily and cheaply with smart labels.

It’s small now, but one prominent tech research firm estimates the smart labels to be worth $10 billion by 2021.

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