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The Connection Between RFID and Social Networks Gets Deeper

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Jun 12, 2012 @ 10:34 AM
  
  
  
  
  

Social MediaSocial networking channels have demonstrated again and again that they have very practical uses - both in the personal and business realms. It seems as though we pass some sort of milestone on a regular basis. Just when it seems like I’ve heard about all of the potential uses, there comes another one, quickly followed by another and another.

Our good friend and business partner, Patrick Sweeney provided another example recently about connecting the physical and online worlds, however the kinks still need to be ironed out. It’s a great idea to be able to share your Red Sox experience with your friends who aren’t in attendance, but at the 100th anniversary game, the check-in option and being able to upload photos to Facebook via smart phones weren’t working too well that day. Apparently there was a bandwidth bottleneck; too many people trying to do the same thing in the same place. Patrick asked us to imagine a more seamless experience. Excellent idea, though I’m thinking Yankee Stadium will have this type of innovative solution deployed long before Fenway figures it out, making the baseball experience in New York even better than it already is. Sorry Boston!

In another example, RFID Journal recently reported that LifeSynk Ltd. is launching an RFID solution that would link brick-and-mortar stores, consumer products and events to the online world via social media channels. By updating a Facebook status regarding a certain product, or checking in at a certain store, retailers can offer those individuals special promotions and discounts that are targeted to their preferences. For events, people can “like” a band or song on Facebook and receive a credit for those songs on iTunes, for example. LifeSynk reports that the benefit for retailers and event organizers is greater visibility via online social networks. We have seen similar implementations where the benefits go beyond increased visibility to being able to build and achieve brand loyalty, which translates into repeat sales. Now that’s success!

A very recent and impactful example of connecting the physical and online worlds made headlines when Facebook introduced a feature for people to register as organ donors and promote their choice on the profile pages. According to a BusinessWeek story, the same day the Facebook feature was publicized, 6,000 people had registered in 22 states. Normally, less than 400 people sign up in the 22 states combined.

Businesses can no longer ignore the power of social networks and the role that RFID can play. It’s about expanding reach and influence well beyond traditional boundaries. People are connecting on a more frequent and deeper level and RFID can play a very prominent role in turning those experiences into successes.  The Internet of Things just got bigger.

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Sports & Entertainment – The Next Market to Drive RFID Adoption?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, May 31, 2012 @ 11:12 AM
  
  
  
  
  

Nats TixNot too long ago we blogged about the Tampa Bay Lightning embedding RFID tags in the jerseys worn by season ticket holders. The strategy was to encourage repeat customers and increase sales and revenue. Could the Sports & Entertainment market be the next major adopter of RFID? It seems as though the idea of using technology to build brand loyalty in this segment is catching on.

The Washington Nationals have also embarked on an RFID-fueled rewards program that links ticketing, concessions, merchandise and parking to keep their fans coming back and spending money.

At Nationals Park RFID readers have been installed at the front gate, as well as at refreshment stands and merchandise shops. With RFID-enabled turnstiles, fans required an average of less than three seconds to enter the park as opposed to almost 10 seconds when tickets were manually scanned. And, if a fan has earned enough points to merit a freebee such as a hot dog, t-shirt, or even a game ticket, he will receive a text message or an e-mail indicating as such, if he has opted into the program.

However, brand loyalty isn’t the only business benefit that will drive RFID adoption in the sports and entertainment market. Anyone who has ever tried to buy tickets to a Red Sox vs. Yankees game knows that those tickets are in such high demand, they usually sell out as soon as they go on sale. If you were at Ray Bourque’s last game in Boston in a Bruins uniform, you’d recall there was not an empty seat in the house, or in the aisle for that matter. It makes sense that franchises would want to capitalize on those peak demand situations.

Enter dynamic pricing. The concept has been around for a while, but it has only just recently taken off in sports. With dynamic pricing, not only can the franchise profit more from the games everyone wants to attend, they can appropriately value tickets for the games that aren’t as popular. For example if the weather is bad or if there is another major event happening at the same time, the tickets can be priced accordingly and both the fans and the franchise are happy. 

According to a Forbes story, “Ticket pricing technologies have advanced to the point where it has become logistically more efficient to implement dynamic pricing in sports.” The article doesn’t specifically mention RFID, but based on what we’ve seen with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Nationals, RFID could assist with dynamic pricing adoption because of the customer identification and direct messaging it could help facilitate.

Qcue, the company that develops software for dynamic pricing, has seen clients increase revenue by an average of about 30% in high demand situations and approximately 5-10% in low demand situations. It would be interesting to see how much the profit margins could increase by integrating with an RFID solution.

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Phish Sings RFID’s Praises

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Feb 27, 2012 @ 12:10 PM
  
  
  
  
  

PhishAs a Vermonter, I've been a long time Phish fan and I was excited to hear the recent announcement that the band would be part of the Bonnaroo Arts and Music Festival event this summer in Tennessee. As a technology marketer, I was even more excited when I discovered that Phish found a clever way to use RFID for its merchandising activities. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone who is familiar with the band. They are a very creative group.

As you may know, the band established a non-profit called WaterWheel Foundation whose mission is to raise funds for a non-profit organizations in each community in which Phish plays while on tour.  They do this through donations and through selling t-shirts, hats, sweatshirts and other "dry goods".

At each show, WaterWheel volunteers unpack hundreds of items. The volunteers count each item, keep tally on paper, and then place them on display. At the end of the show, the merchandise is counted again, written down again and re-packed. Based on the counts, the volunteers order additional merchandise from its warehouse to be added to the inventory, which ships to the next tour location. We don’t have to spell it out for our readers. That process, as we know all too well, leaves a large margin for error. Not to mention extremely tedious and time consuming.

It turns out that Zander Livingston, founder of our partner, Truecount, is as big a Phish fan as well! To launch Phish's RFID use, Truecount donated the TC Mobile Merch RFID solution to the foundation to help improve its inventory process. Truecount and the WaterWheel volunteers would commission an RFID tag by linking an item's SKU number with the Electronic Product Code (EPC) number encoded on that tag. At the end of a each show, the merchandise booths were taken down, the RFID tags were read again. Volunteers could use the results from that final inventory scan to determine if and what additional items were needed at the next show venue.

RFID Journal reported that the inventory task can be accomplished within 10 to 12 minutes, instead of the two and a half hours it took without RFID. Matthew Beck, WaterWheel Foundation's touring director, told RFID Journal that he hopes the RFID technology might "stabilize the variables," and improve the accuracy of inventory counts, as well as save time.

Matthew, have no doubt, with RFID, you can accomplish just that.

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RFID Boosts Fan Loyalty

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Jan 26, 2012 @ 02:51 PM
  
  
  
  
  

Brand LoyaltyBeing a sports fan, I find myself going from one end of the pendulum to the other as far as being totally enamored with my team, to giving up hope and not wanting to hear their name until the next season. But, I will admit I could never change allegiances, no matter how disillusioned I may feel at certain times. 

Even though season tickets and attending sporting events are probably the last thing people would give up in an economy when tightening belts is a way of life, team franchises must still recognize that times are tough and tickets and concessions aren’t cheap. They need to figure out ways to keep fans coming back, especially if they’re not winning. 

Having exhibited technology savvy in the past, the Tampa Bay Lightning has recognized the business benefits of RFID. They have embedded RFID tags in about 10,000 season ticket holder jerseys. Why? To help drive ticket sales and team loyalty.

Season ticket holders will each receive the new team jersey with an RFID tag embedded into it. As the tags are scanned by one of the 250 readers installed into the Quest terminals throughout the arena, at concession stands, and in the retail stores and kiosks, they are offered discounts on food, beverages and team merchandise. And if you’re watching the game on TV, you can bet you’ll see a lot more Lightning jerseys in the crowd. Since embarking on this latest project, the Lightning franchise has seen a noticible increase in demand for season tickets.

We’ve seen this before. In a previous blog post, we experimented with RFID and social networks to build brand loyalty. The results showed so much promise that we feel this combination will soon take off in business. The Boston Celtics have recently used social media to convert Facebook fans into ticket holders. Mark my words, it won’t be long before the Celts see the promise of RFID with social networking to boost ticket sales.

For insight into how others are using RFID to build brand loyalty, download our case study: Building Brand Loyalty and Reach through RFID and Social Media.

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Ready! Set! Hut! Hut! RFID?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Dec 23, 2011 @ 08:08 AM
  
  
  
  
  

Sensor HelmetFootball is by far the most popular sport in the United States with much of its success being credited to its sheer brutality and gladiator mentality. Let’s face it; if you watch football on TV, you are likely drawn in by the bone crushing hits.

If you pay attention to the sports scene at all, you undoubtedly have been hearing a lot of discussion around player safety, specifically, the issue of concussions.  What was once referred to as “getting your bell rung” has now been more appropriately diagnosed as a concussion, and has sparked spirited debate over player safety and the ramifications of multiple concussions on a player’s long-term health.

The issue of concussions was largely ignored in contact sports such as football and hockey until the middle of the last decade when former Ivy League football player and former WWE wrestler Chris Nowinski wrote a critically acclaimed book called: Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis, which was published in 2006.  This book and his subsequent research and affiliation with the Boston University School of Medicine has shown a bright light on the issue of sports based concussions.

So what does Football have to do with RFID? 

I’m glad you asked.

Treehouse Labs, a product development firm based in Austin, TX recently announced that they will soon be testing a prototype along with Shockwave Impact Systems of Chicago that allows them to install a sensing system inside of football helmets in order to alert coaches and medical personnel when a player experiences an impact great enough to cause a concussion.  Using RFID, the data is transmitted to a web-based server that can be accessed via smartphones. The transmitters are expected to have a range of approximately 2.5 miles.

These developments have the potential to open up a whole new arena for RFID technology. In addition to football, contact sports such as hockey and lacrosse would seem a natural progression.  Other sports such as auto and motorcycle racing and cycling could benefit as well; information gathered from these sensors could assist medical personnel in diagnosing head injuries quicker and take the appropriate steps for treatment.

These are just the latest examples of how RFID is finding its way into our everyday experiences and improving the quality of our daily lives.

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RFID Offers More to Race Timing than Just Timing

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Aug 02, 2011 @ 12:50 PM
  
  
  
  
  

Marathon TimingMarathons are popping up everywhere. It appears as though there is one for everyone, with a slew taking place across the country over the summer including: the Extraterrestrial Full Moon Midnight Marathon near Area 51 in Nevada, the Rock 'n' Roll Seattle Marathon, and the Grandfather Mountain Marathon inNorth Carolina.

So, what better time to revisit race timing since we last blogged on the topic? In our previous post, we focused on how UHF RFID could be used for extremely precise timing, as well as the efficiencies gained by using RFID due to the technology’s ability to process a greater amount of data in a shorter period of time. Today, we thought we would highlight a few additional benefits of using UHF RFID in race timing applications as described in our latest Application Note: Designing Race Timing Applications Using UHF RFID Technology.

Checking-in participants before the race - The slow, manual process of checking-in racers on race day can be eliminated by mailing pre-associated RFID-enabled race bibs to the racers in advance. With an RIFD-enabled race system, participants get checked-in automatically via an RFID reader at the starting point, eliminating time consuming check-in processes that can impact a runners pre-race outlook.

The motivation factor - As we noted, marathons are attracting a wide demographic of people - from the born runner to the novice. But they all have one thing in common. Most runners want to be cheered on, celebrated and supported and this motivation can go a long way to help them dig deep to find what it takes to finish a grueling race. With the combination of RFID-enabled tags and check points, sponsors, friends or family can display personal motivational messages on big screens for individual racers or a group of racers at any given time. Or the statistical information of a particular racer could be presented at different check points so they can see their performance in relation to the rest of the field. This motivation factor is also very fitting for charity races and even walks.

The importance of real-time data - Without RFID, race coordinators have to record the time of each participant at certain milestones, which can be a tedious and is prone to human error. RFID systems automate the collection of timestamps by reading the participant’s bib at certain locations and updating them to a central database, which is then interrogated in real-time during the event or at the end of the race. Race statistics, like checkpoint time stamps, can also be stored on servers that can be made accessible via the web for participants to check their performance. These time-sensitive application requires fast data transfer between the reader and the tag and could not be achieved at the same level of accuracy with manual processes.

These are just a few of the ways that UHF RFID can be used to enhance the race day experience for race organizers and participants alike.  If you are designing a race system and interested in exploring RFID to enhance your solution, please download our Application Note here.

The next time you run a marathon or participate in a walk for charity, what message would push you to cross the finish line?

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Two Turntables and a Microphone

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Dec 21, 2010 @ 09:51 AM
  
  
  
  
  

45RPM InsertRFID Brings Back the Record Player with a New Twist 

More than ever, this seemed to be the year that RFID became ‘invisible’, allowing people to interact with everyday objects in new ways.  Across several markets and industries, the use of RFID has created more efficient processes and enabled new innovative personalized services.  And here’s a new twist - bridging the gap from old to new, RFID brings back a favorite from the past, making it real again.

So, if you’re like me you had one, maybe two turntables growing up. Big clumsy things that produced sounds that some music lovers continue to prefer over today’s digitally enhanced recordings.

Now, IDEO is using RFID in its project dubbed c60 Redux to bring the turntable to the present, infusing it with modern amenities. Two RFID tags, each representing a song, are embedded into cards, about the size of a playing card. When the cards are placed onto the RFID turntable controller (containing RFID readers), a connected computer plays the designated song.  You get some of the feeling of using the turntable, without the fear of scratching the record and making it skip in that same spot forever. And that’s not all.

Remember when we used to make “mixes” from vinyl recordings to tape? Well this new invention would make that easier too. The RFID readers in the turntable scan the cards clockwise, so mixes can be made by placing the cards in a certain order. You could even mix music to make your own songs.

When a DJ friend in Boston saw what this could do, she said, “Wow. That’s insane. I may be out of a job!”  While it’s unlikely this invention will replace the turn tables and microphones used by the modern DJ, RFID proves again that it’s a technology that’s easy to integrate into everyday objects and versatile enough to make concepts and ideas of all kinds come to life.

It also gets us thinking about other things from our past that RFID could bring back in modern form.

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Find It, Play It – With RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Dec 02, 2010 @ 08:19 AM
  
  
  
  
  

Will This Golf Ball Location System Become A Holiday Hit?

RadarGolfWith the holiday season upon us, finding that perfect gift is on the minds of many of us.  But, what do you get for the dad, grandfather, or favorite aunt or uncle who seem to already have it all?  I’m sure golf equipment often makes the short list.  Maybe a box of golf balls? Perhaps a new driver or putter? Or how about a pre-paid round at that hard to get on local course?

Better yet, how about something that is guaranteed to take a few strokes off of their game?  A few years ago, Radar Corporation introduced RadarGolf, a system designed to help golfers find balls that otherwise would have been left for lost.  Using the system promises fewer penalty strokes, faster play and less frustration on the course.

The solution includes USGA conforming golf balls that have an RFID tag embedded into them and a handheld device that golfers use to locate ‘lost’ balls.  An LCD on the handheld reader provides both visual and audio feedback, indicating proximity to the ball.

Sound too good to be true?  Well, the good news is that RadarGolf was a big hit, gaining worldwide recognition and feature coverage on ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC. BusinessWeek magazine even named RadarGolf one of the Best Products of 2005.  The bad news is the RadarGolf system is no longer being manufactured.  The company’s website indicates that they plan to bring a “new-and-improved” version to market in the future, but doesn’t indicate when. 

Ebay’s got one though, and it’s in new, in the box condition.

Time Left: 1 day 2 hours (Dec 03, 201008:44:46 PST)

Current bid: US $0.99 + $10.95 shipping!

What a deal.  Gift for Grandpa, check…

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Automated Video Stores

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Oct 27, 2010 @ 11:42 AM
  
  
  
  
  

A New Way to Rent Movies – Powered by RFID

MovieQThe way we purchase, rent and watch movies has evolved significantly since Louis Le Prince created and experimental film titled Roundhay Garden Scene on October 14, 1888 – now known as the earliest surviving motion picture.  Personally, I remember the days of having no option other than going to the theater to watch a movie.  It was a fun family event and as I got older, movie night included a half an hour at the arcade across the street playing Tempest before show time.

Then in 1975, Sony brought movies into the home with the introduction of the Betamax. The first Sony LV-1901 Betamax console consisted of a VCR and a 19" TV and retailed for a whopping $2,495!  Expanding our access to movies, in November of 1977 Magnetic Video became the first company to sell motion pictures on home video.  To launch their business, Magnetic Video licensed 50 titles from Twentieth Century-Fox and sold them for $49.95 each under the terms of a club membership.  Taking the market further, George Atkinson launched the first video rental store in Los Angeles in December 1977.  Atkinson charged $50 for an annual membership and $100 for a lifetime membership, providing access to video rentals for $10 a day.  Atkinson grew his business to 42 stores in less than 20 months, running his company, later know as The Video Station, until 1983 when it had nearly 500 stores.

With continued advances in movie production and distribution, we now have the choice of purchasing high-quality DVDs and several ultra-convenient self-service options like on-demand cable rentals and Netflix integrated into my kid’s Nintendo Wii.  We can also still go to brick and mortar retail stores like long time market leader Blockbuster and relative newcomer MovieQ.

MovieQ, an automated movie and game rental chain, has taken a unique approach to operating its stores.  Typically manned by a single employee to sell munchies, MovieQ stores use state-of-the-art RFID-enabled robotic systems to automate DVD dispensing.  In addition to providing automated access to a large selection of movies and games, customers can use a credit card or preloaded MovieQ cash cards at in-store customer interaction centers (CICs) to purchase rental merchandise. 

With over 10,000s items available, MovieQ stores offer compelling advantages over other types of brick and mortar stores.  This model – automated with RFID – allows MovieQ to operate in a small footprint which translates to low real estate costs.  They also save on staffing costs and have reduced product loss and theft – allowing them to pass savings and value to the customer.

An interesting case study on MovieQ has been published by UPM Raflatac - the provider of high-frequency RFID tags MovieQ uses in their solution.  Check them out and let us know how you think RFID can automate other high-volume retail operations. 

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RFID Hits Center Stage

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 @ 02:44 PM
  
  
  
  
  

Following Opera Singers to Capture the Experience for the Audience

I grew up with the music of Pavarotti, Verdi and Rossini coming from the living room, usually on Sundays. And a little Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra mixed in. By no means am I an expert, but I must admit, I thought the quality of the performances solely depended on the talent of the singers and the acoustics. But even with the most advanced architecture and best names in show business, apparently the live experience could still get better.

Opera can be defined as a theatrical presentation in which a dramatic performance is set to music, incorporating many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, costumes Outboardand dance. To pull the audience in with greater force and make it feel like one of the characters, Out Board, as reported by RFID Journal, developed a sound-locating system that would pinpoint the location of the performers on the stage. What that means is that the singer’s location – or coordinates - are forwarded to a software program, which determines when a specific voice should reach a certain speaker. The second piece of the puzzle is for the software to determine the precise second for that performer’s voice to come out of a certain speaker.  

Remember the Saturday Nite Live skit with Bill Murray playing Hercules, poking fun at the audio and video being comically out of sync, as was the case in the days of early TV when sound suffered from latency issues. (The SNL video clip isn’t available due to copyright laws, but here is a transcript with pictures to jog your memory.) So, not exactly the same as what we’re talking about here, but an audible “out of sync-ness” can be noticed when you’re at an opera house that seats tens of thousands of people. And the larger the theatre, the more common it is for the performer's voice to be heard by the audience slightly later than when the voice comes out of the speakers. This obviously interferes with the sound quality, which is especially important when you’re listening to an opera in another language.

The authentic experience starts with each performer wearing a battery-powered Ubisense RFID tag, easily invisible to both performer and audience member. The tag transmits a unique ID number that is linked to the performer's information. When the performer enters the stage, it receives transmissions from RFID readers. The Ubisense Location Platform software calculates the location of the tag based on the angle of signal arrival to each reader, and the time at which the signal was received. Then it assigns the location of each tag to a specific zone on stage. By determining the exact location of each performer, the system can calculate the sound delay to ensure proper amplification and speaker location for each voice.

Many of the heavy metal concerts that I’ve seen in my day could have benefitted from better sound quality, among a few other things.

[Screenshot Outboard TiMax Tracker (TT) real-time location system]

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