As 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.
As we gear up for HIMSS, we’re reminded of the benefits that RFID has brought to healthcare – tracking expiration dates of prescription medications, preventing surgical equipment loss, making processes more efficient, personalizing a patient’s experience – the list goes on and on. Let’s add another to the list - one that merits special attention. It’s the use of RFID to promote cancer awareness.
In Polk City, Florida, a group of breast cancer awareness activists held a Big Pink Ribbon event where thousands of individuals wearing pink ribbon t-shirts assembled for the cause. Each person was counted by team captains with check lists, hand tally counters and of course, RFID! Why did they want such a precise count? What better way to garner attention than to get into the book of Guinness World Records!
The University of South Florida Polytechnic, UPM RFID and Borda Technology used RFID readers, UHF tags and custom software to accurately identify each individual and provide a 100% accurate, real-time count of the total number of participants. The RFID solution included:
- Lanyards for all participants with UHF RFID tags, which supported the EPC Gen 2 RFID standard
- An RFID reader at the entrance portal with four downward-pointing antennas to count participants
- Software with a custom asset-tracking solution
The tags were used for precision counting with built-in redundancies. The readers captured participant data and transmitted that information to a custom asset-tracking software program. The RFID system would have immediately alerted the organizers if they had set the new world record for largest human-awareness ribbon. But it wasn’t in the cards this time. Even though the event didn’t make it into the book of Guinness World Records, they had a great turnout fulfilling their first objective - to educate more people about finding the cure for breast cancer.
We like how they showed another way in which RFID can be easily integrated into everyday lives. As you may remember, one of our missions last year was to promote awareness for RFID via our RFID100 campaign. Hopefully greater awareness of RFID and the cure for breast cancer will help each other succeed.
In our last post about RFID in healthcare, we explored the benefits of Passive UHF RFID.
RFID in general presents many benefits for the healthcare industry, such as high value asset tracking, materials management, patient and staff workflow, and being used to support compliance with industry mandates and regulations including Sarbanes-Oxley, JACHO and OSHA. Because of the variety of applications and departmental functions that can be supported by an RFID visibility solution, selecting the right solution, or even the right project to begin with, can be daunting.
Many hospitals have Wi-Fi infrastructures for their voice and data processing needs. However, few have the density of Wi-Fi access points necessary for accurate real-time location tracking. Implementing a new WLAN infrastructure, or even just updating the Wi-Fi coverage, can be costly. Even with the necessary Wi-Fi coverage, RTLS/Wi-Fi based tags may not work well for certain applications. Such hurdles can include large tag size, time-limited battery life, required periodic re-calibration to maintain location accuracy and limitations in high interference areas like radiology.
Implement Passive RFID First
While RFID technologies can help achieve certain objectives and lower costs, it is still necessary to consider the cost of infrastructure changes and time commitment required from hospital IT staff. With this in mind, a proven and practical approach is to start with low cost and easy to implement Gen2 Passive RFID. It limits the work required to the existing infrastructure and helps control costs. Gen 2 passive readers and tags can utilize the existing data processing network infrastructure and, in many cases, do not require extensive IT staff involvement to deploy. By utilizing lower cost, easy to deploy passive RFID-based systems as the initial step, hospitals can significantly improve productivity, offer enhanced patient services, and improve quality of care within current budget and IT program restraints – while having invested in a platform for growth.
A variety of reader and tag combinations allows hospitals to choose where they would like to deploy a Passive RFID visibility solution, usually based on where the need is greatest. The flexibility lets the hospitals be behind the wheel vs. being bound by any limitations from the technology. For example, a hospital can begin by tracking high-value mobile equipment such as wheelchairs, stretchers, crash carts, infusion pumps, etc. Other items in the hospital setting that can be monitored with RFID include:
- Item-level pieces – surgical instruments and dressings, medicines, linens and uniforms
- Medical records – files, documents, x-rays and other diagnostic images. RFID systems support the rollout of the electronic health records.
- Patient movement and identification for proper administration of associated treatment plans
As the first high-value mobile equipment phase is completed and begins to yield a return on investment, the hospital can embark on the next phase. This phased approach allows a hospital department to measure and manage asset, material, patient and/or staff flow and productivity through each stage of the process. It’s been proven to deliver a near-immediate return on investment.
To learn more, download our case study: Greenville Hospital Deploys Integrated RFID Solution for Operating Room Asset Tracking
Check ThingMagic out at HIMSS where we’ll be showcasing healthcare operations made better with Passive RFID.
As published in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of PassAGEnow:
When predicting technology trends, Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and author of Sketching User Experiences may have said it best:
“If history is any indication, we should assume that any technology that is going to have a significant impact over the next 10 years is already 10 years old!”
This theory holds true for several technologies. For example, the first mobile telephone call was made in 1946, many years before the first commercial cellular network was launched in 1979. GPS was in use for nearly 30 years in government and military programs before it became a must have for personal vehicle navigation. And, the formation of the Internet as we know it began in the 1980s, but wasn’t truly incorporated into virtually every aspect of modern human life until a decade later.
Applying this premise to radio frequency identification (RFID) seems to hold true as well. The technology itself was well over 10 years old in 2004 when retail giants began pushing it as a means of driving efficiencies into their supply chains. While these initial retail programs didn’t succeed according to plan, and mass adoption didn’t happen the way many analysts predicted, these initiatives did kick off a high level of interest from retailers, product manufacturers and many other industries and markets focused on improving their business and service processes. Between 2004 and now, something else happened that makes one ask if RFID is ready to have that significant impact Buxton mentions.
During this span, RFID hardware and software providers have continued to innovate and collaborate at a notable clip. RFID readers have evolved to include a wide variety of purpose-built and multi-use form factors. Smaller, more powerful embedded RFID modules are being used to enable many stationary and mobile devices with the auto-identification technology. These advancements, coupled with continued innovation in the RFID tag and software markets, have resulted in RFID system performance improving exponentially. While these advances are significant, I’m not suggesting that that there will be an ‘ah-ha’ moment when businesses and consumers realize that RFID is a technology they can’t live without. To the contrary, RFID adoption will likely be steady; finding its way into a greater number of solutions and replacing less effective legacy technologies as time goes on. A key point in all of this however, is that the technology itself has matured to a point where it is no longer a barrier to entry.
‘Climbing the Slope’
So where are we now, more than 40 years after the first passive radio transponder with memory was patented in 1970, and nearly eight years since the retail industry brought attention to RFID at a global scale? Confirming the market’s progress is evidence that RFID technology has passed several critical milestones of Gartner Research’s well known Hype Cycle, including first and second generation products, media hype, negative press, supplier consolidation and failures, and emerging methodologies and best practices. Taken at face value, this would put the market in the Hype Cycle’s Slope of Enlightenment stage and moving toward the emergence of third generation products, out-of-the box usability, and high growth adoption.
What’s more, businesses across all industries have a great number of well documented end user case studies and best practices to help them with their ROI analysis. Many pre-configured and kitted solutions are emerging, and ease-of-use features are starting to find their way into once highly-technical, hard to use products. Maybe most importantly, vendor promises and user expectations about performance have found solid common ground. Error rates have dropped significantly and there are many applications where 100 percent read rates are achieved. That said, users accept that there can be momentary losses of visibility of RFID tags owing to environmental factors and that software error correction, along with well-designed installations, should be a principal consideration in implementing successful solutions.
So now what?
It’s Time to Reshape the Way We Think About RFID
With the reliability of today’s RFID systems and the apparent progression through traditional stages of technology advancement, it’s time to reshape the way we think about RFID. RFID vendors and solution providers have survived the technology maturation process. End customer organizations of all sizes have learned where and when it makes the most sense to apply RFID to their business processes. Now it’s time to think beyond RIFD of the past 10 years and toward the next wave of innovation.
We should think beyond the underlying technology – and toward the value of the data, emerging methods of data access, and about the many innovative enterprise and consumer applications that can be enabled with RFID data.
We should think beyond one-size-fits-all readers – and toward the wide variety of fixed-position and embedded RFID reader form factors that can support a great number of unbelievably diverse applications.
We should think beyond siloed deployments of RFID – and toward the hardware, software and data becoming an integrated element of the enterprise.
We should think beyond the singular technology of RFID – and toward the combination of RFID and other technologies like GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
As an industry, we are beginning to see glimpses of this forward thinking. Technology vendors are more willing to collaborate. True solutions are starting to emerge. We are experiencing a realization, albeit a slow one, that no single technology is suitable for identifying and tracking things because different assets hold different values and each technology has its strengths and weaknesses relative to a given application.
As we’ve experienced with many other data-driven solutions, I expect this progression may eventually lead to RFID as a platform – with RFID modules and extensible software interfaces allowing for the integration of RIFD with other technologies. Purpose-built systems will incorporate passive sensors and computational systems will emerge. In certain applications, it is easy to imagine everyday physical objects with built-in RFID. If we’ve learned anything from the mobile device revolution it is that there is great promise when devices are able to connect with objects around us. Even more compelling is when these devices will be able to learn about our environment, provide contextual adaptation if necessary, and, connect those objects to the broader Internet and business systems.
There is no doubt that over the next decade, RFID systems will become an integral part of the consumer and business experience. The convergence of wireless technologies will be augmented by RFID systems. The development of passive RFID as part of this platform will be driven by the potential to measure, report and monetize a growing number of transactions in the physical world.
Similar to the mobile phone, the widespread integration of GPS into today’s commercial and consumer positioning solutions, and the adoption of this thing called the Internet, RFID is ready to transform markets. Only time will tell the scale and impact RFID will have, but I for one, bet it will be a big one.