A news service reporting on developments regarding the use of radio based tagging transponder systems for commerce and scientific applications. Covering the RFID technologies, EAS technologies and magnetic coupled techniques.
Scanning systems for retail?
In the March 1998 listings of granted patents, IBM are granted a patent for an intelligent trolley, showing that despite the commercial progress on this project being frustratingly slow, a number of major companies are working steadily on the problem believing it has merit.
Back in 1994, a South African company showed on television sets around the world, a trolley with 35 items inside being scanned in a couple of seconds. Until that demonstration, the idea was just science fiction! Despite nearly five years having passed, we still do not see a commercial system in operation, but watching the progress of patents shows that different approaches are being tried by those who believe it is a viable application for RFID.
Also in March 1998, the UCC/EAN have held a workshop in Europe concerning RFID and its use in retail. This body is a world association of international committees that create order out of the barcodes that one finds on your groceries in a retail outlet, a very important function for organised local and international trade, so that when you have your purchases scanned at the checkout till, the correct description and price is supplied from the computer database. Similarly goods made in say India and sold in the UK are correctly identified and do not clash with a number allocated already to a UK product. The meeting of UCC/EAN is very significant in the light of a lack of delivery todate of systems that are suitable for this application, showing that even if the technology is not yet available, the end users believe it is time to start getting prepared.
In order not to be caught off guard, a number of major retailing companies have formed international associations to keep up to date with RFID developments and to evaluate various RFID applications, also showing that they believe a replacement technology for barcoding must be near.
In March 1998, another South African company announced their Trolleyponder® technology, which further advanced the world towards achieving this goal, releasing a technology that was simpler and cheaper to make, had additional features compared to the current norms, and also was easily available to companies throughout the world who might wish to be involved in production.
In October 1998, Trolley Scan (Pty) Ltd from South Africa announced that they were soon to launch their "Retail Initiative", a cooperative program between leading retailers and THEIR own preferred manufacturers and equipment suppliers, to phase RFID into the retail environment. The rationale behind this initiative, was that the costs of transponders were approaching the $0-10 mark, that there were only limited production facilities to meet the vast demands of the retailers, and that the technology available was very suitable for the application, particularly with regard to the features offered, even including advanced Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) at virtually no extra expense. Without the initiative, Trolley Scan believed that the market price (as against cost price) would remain too high for the application as too many alternative uses for the limited supplies were available.
What now remains is to follow the progress of leading retailers who decide to lead the way, thereby ensuring that they have the supplies, pricing and benefits for the medium term future.
During October a new technology has been added to the Transponder News called HoloTag, the tags being a very low cost disc of magnetic material that is virtually indestructable. HoloTag claim that one of their target applications will be the labelling of retail goods. At present their number range is limited for this application, but they have demonstrated larger ranges.
November 4th,1998 saw the announcement by Philips Semiconductors of their 13.56MHz I-CODE product at Scan-Tech Europe 98. This technology has been extensively tested during 1998 by the welknown innovative retail chain El Corte Ingles S.A.of Madrid, Spain which must have the distinction of being the first major retailer to start the conversion to RFID.
An Industrial Design Student from the University of New South Wales in Australia has completed an industrial design of the BRANDERS point of sale system, a self service checkout aisle for trolleys and baskets. The design was fashioned around the Trolleyponder RFID system, providing for the scanning of goods, the transfer of funds via a credit card, opening of gates to allow the client to pass and checking with long range EAS that no items were slipped through. This design most probably will be the vision used for future steps in the direction of incorporating RFID. (Information on system)
February 2001 - EAN International announce a sponsored workshop as part of their approach to lobby with the European Commission for a global frequency in the 870-930MHz band to be allocated for RFID in retail
November 2001 - Trolley Scan announce licensees who will start producing their EcoTag in large volume for the UHF (860-930MHz) band
2002 saw major progress towards the ubiqitous low cost transponder for the retail applications. Although there was lots of activity around trying to define standards, the announcement by Gilette that it will be ordering 500 million low cost UHF transponders in March 2003, must be regarded as the key event that advances RFID into the realm of practicality in retail. With the major initiatives that are in force in 2003, the goal of having a US$0-05 transponder operating at UHF rfrequencies, with integrated EAS features seems practical in the medium term. The bottlenecks are going to be the supply of sufficient quantities of transponders.
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