In late March, I attended RFID World, held at the Gaylord Texan Resort near the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. The show is in its fifth year, and I began to see more parallels to the self-service and kiosk industry. Like kiosks, radio frequency identification (RFID) technology has been around for decades, but people still wonder when it is really going to take off.
With about 3,000 attendees and 200 exhibitors, it would appear RFID has arrived. The fact that Wal-Mart was not present was seen as a boost to the industry rather than a mark against it. Some said it proved that RFID can stand on its own.
While most of the show dealt with supply chain management, there were some areas of interactivity that were relevant to self-service.
Best Buy CEO Robert Willett was a keynote speaker, lending more validation to the industry. Willett talked about a “massive demand for personalization” and that Best Buy’s goal was to “co-create solutions together” with its customers.
“We believe RFID can make a tremendous difference,” Willett said.
Willett’s vision is to place an RFID tag on every single product in the store. In tests, RFID has enabled Best Buy employees to spend more time on the floor rather than stocking or looking for items. Willett also mentioned smart signs in the store where data from RFID-enabled smart shelves correlate sales to the store. Shopping assistance and check-out were two other areas that can be improved with RFID technology.
Future plans for the $30 billion electronics giant include an expansion of its pilot, an upgrade to Generation 2 tags, improvement of tag reads and exploration of ways to use RFID to improve the customer experience.
Following Willett was Kevin Ashton, vice president of ThingMagic. Ashton demonstrated advances in RFID reader technology, such as RFID tags that can be read inside a tin can, inside a glass of water and tracking a colleague’s movements around the ballroom using a Google Maps application. ThingMagic’s new reader is about the size of an iPod Nano.
Winners of the first RFID Excellence in Business Awards were announced at RFID World on March 27, prior to the conference keynote address.
Of note: Eugene, Oregon-based ADASA, Inc. was given the Excellence in RFID Technology Award for its low-cost, wearable, mobile encoder, the PAD3500, which supports the encoding of tags anywhere, anytime. The device works in conjunction with ADASA’s SmartCartridge, enabling the hands-free loading and encoding of RF tags. The solution has already demonstrated business value in a pilot with SSKA member Freedom Shopping, which reduced labor by as much as 50 percent.
Observations from the show floor:
Tyco Electronics was demonstrating its RF system by showing a Nike shoe and clothing item with an RFID tag that displayed product information on an interactive digital sign.
German company Atlantic Zeiser showed off its smart cards, tickets and bank notes.
France-based IER makes printers, gate readers and kiosks for airports. Matho Li, RFID R&D & marketing manager, told me that IER made the first CUSS-compliant kiosk for the British Airport Authority.
Avery Dennison makes the RFID item level tags for Freedom Shopping.
MediaCart exhibited its interactive shopping cart in ThingMagic’s booth. (See “Media Cart deploys smart shopping cart”)
EnvisionWare shared part of UPM Raflatac’s booth to display their library self-service kiosk, whereby you could check in, check out and pay fines – basically “anything to do with self-service in a library,” according to Michael Monk, VP marketing and business development.
“We took all the data from retail, airlines … and applied it to libraries,” Monk said. EnvisionWare has 4,500 library clients in the U.S. The kiosk, designed and manufactured by Anne Reid Technologies, is multi-lingual, has a bill acceptor, card reader and, of course, an RFID reader.
Precision Dynamics Corp. started out manufacturing RFID wristbands and then developed a kiosk at the request of Great Wolf Lodge (an indoor water park), who wanted to allow customers to load money onto the wristband. Since the wristbands are waterproof, this is a great way for guests to pay for items at concession stands without the need to carry a wallet or purse.
Another feature of the kiosks is a “family locator,” which allows members of a family to locate where other members last checked in. There are currently 10 kiosks in the field, according to Douglas Bourque, RFID market development manager, including the Jacksonville Suns baseball park.
RFID Revolution provides consulting and training on RFID.
“Our goal is to make it fun, show how it’s relevant,” said Leslie Downey, company founder. “We want to help end users find opportunities and assess risks RFID might pose.”
The firm has a new e-learning introductory course coming out called “RFID Essentials” which Downey said is intended to be “hands on, engaging and visually exciting.”