Ready! Set! Hut! Hut! RFID?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Dec 23, 2011 @ 09:08 AM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Sports & Entertainment

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.

Prediction: Data and Apps Rule RFID For The Next 10 Years

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Dec 20, 2011 @ 10:14 AM

Tags: RFID, Embedded RFID, RFID Predictions, RFID Data, Big Data

Big Data“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!”

-- Bill Buxton, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and author of Sketching User Experiences

It amazes me each year. It seems like I blink and all of a sudden I see the torrent of predictions coming at me from all directions. Where did the year go?

Indeed, it was another year of fast-paced change in the RFID market. The end of the year is always a good time to take a step back and consider what the next year will hold. I personally find it fun to make predictions.  Except, instead of predicting the next year, I’m going to channel Bill Buxton and his quote referenced above and issue somewhat of a challenge for the next 10 years.

It’s Time to Reshape the Way We Think About RFID

During the last 10 years (and even going back 40 years since the first passive radio transponder with memory was patented in 1970), 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 form factors, and embedded RFID modules are being used to enable many stationary and mobile devices with the auto-identification technology. 

In fact, the technology itself has matured to a point where it is no longer a barrier to entry for most markets and applications.  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. 

So now what?

End customer organizations of all sizes have learned where and when it makes the most sense to apply RFID to their business processes.  RFID vendors and solution providers have survived the technology maturation process.  Now it’s time to think beyond RFID of the past 10 years and toward the next wave of innovation. 

Big Data, Meet RFID

We should think beyond the underlying technology – and toward the value of RFID data, emerging methods of data access and analysis, and about the many innovative enterprise and consumer applications that can be enabled with this 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 we’ve experienced with many other data-driven solutions, this progression will lead to RFID as a data platform – with RFID modules and extensible software interfaces allowing for the integration of RFID with other technologies. 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. 

Thought about in this way, RFID becomes much more valuable in the context of “big data” and how it is “the next frontier of innovation”, as McKinsey states earlier this year in its report Big Data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity. In fact, it cites the Internet of Things as a major contributing factor to the explosion of data.

Consistent with Bill Buxton’s view, big data is not new. If you look at the amount of information Google deals with as an example, it’s been around for at least 10 years. But as more objects get connected to the network, the idea of “big” data as we’ve known it so far will seem quaint (a view that McKinsey shares).

The increasing volume and detail of information captured by enterprises, the rise of multimedia, social media, and the Internet of Things will fuel exponential growth in data for the foreseeable future.

Along with the torrent of data RFID platforms will produce come challenges in dealing with the data; first and foremost the need to think at a business process level about how this data can be used to create more organizational value in the form of increased revenue, cost savings and profits. 

So, along with the challenge to think about RFID from a data vs. technology perspective comes the need for the industry to provide more end-to-end-solutions.  The market needs to move fast because companies already are thinking at this level, in particular in the in-transit, retail and healthcare markets - which we’ll examine in future posts. 

In the meantime, what do think?  What are the challenges you see ahead for the industry? I’d love to discuss in the comments and in future posts.

Will NRF’s ‘The Big Show’ Be a Good Barometer of RFID in Retail?

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Dec 15, 2011 @ 04:34 PM

Tags: RFID, Retail, Item Level RFID, Social Media

NRFAlready in its 101st year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) is gearing up for its Annual Convention & EXPO in New York next month. It looks like there is a lot of excitement in store for us (no pun intended) including a keynote speech from Bill Clinton!

Aside from a former U.S. President being in attendance, digital retail and mobility are dominating the buzz this year. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise because retailers are marketing to the consumer in ways that align with their behaviors – which is largely dominated by using mobile devices to consume digital information. 

According to Susan Newman, NRF’s Senior Vice President of Conferences, “Right now, it’s all about how you reach customers, engage with them, and help them engage with you.”

If you walk into any mall or store, or even just observe people walking down the street, EVERYONE is carrying a mobile device. If that’s an accurate representation of the consumer market today, retailers must recognize that they can reach a very large portion of their target audience via digital media and the smart phone. As a proof point to that theory, Shop.org’s First Look Track at NRF will be two days that focus on all things digital, related to topics such as The Future Shopper and Buying Behaviors.

A while back we experimented with mobility and social media, having RFID play the integral role. We determined that RFID + Social Media = Reach. Meaning that by adding the two together, it was easier and more effective to reach the intended audience, customize to their preferences and build brand loyalty. How can RFID help get us closer to that Holy Grail (in a simple, easy way) in retail?

One way to get to get a better understanding of your customers’ preferences is through item-level tagging. It may actually be on its way to being considered a best practice in retail. The Voluntary Inter-industry Commerce Solutions (VICS) Association started the VICS Item-Level RFID Initiative for that very purpose. Its goal is to foster innovation, improve business processes and enhance consumer experiences by developing business applications and best practices around standards-based RFID. This is the kind of support the industry needs to effectively sell, and sell in such a way that is embraced by consumers. Using mobile devices and digital/social media will undoubtedly be widely accepted because it aligns with their current behavior.

We can’t wait to see some of these session tracks at NRF to learn more. Congratulations, NRF on 101 years and a sold out expo floor!

Holiday Gift Idea: Game On RFID!

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Dec 14, 2011 @ 11:05 AM

Tags: RFID, Gaming, RFID Enabled Toys, Smart Objects

SkylandersKids are harder to please come holiday time every year.  The more that technology goes into toys, the more kids expect from them.  The Wii and Xbox Kinect have set the bar high for the use of wireless technology in game play.  Action figures are downright boring if they don’t make wondrous sounds. They need RFID to really make them interesting.

That reality is here with one of the hottest gifts for the 2011 holiday season.  Activision, the company that brought the “Guitar Hero” franchise to life, has introduced Skylanders, the latest innovation in gaming technology.  Through the use of plastic action figures that act as thumb drives for storing data, users are able to connect wirelessly to a video game system with each of the figures serving as an independent wireless storage device.

The action figures have RFID chips that are read by the “Portal of Power” on which they are placed.  This allows users to play with the figures on one gaming system and transport them to other locations and different systems without losing any of the stored data so they can pick up at the point they left off.  For example, a gamer could start off a skylander mission on his PlayStation 3 and complete the adventure on a Wii system without any loss of status or interruption of game play.  This has never been possible before.

It is being speculated in the gaming industry that if the Skylander franchise takes off as expected, it will lead to other game manufactures such as Nintendo with its popular Mario brand to begin producing its own version.  This is incredibly exciting news for the makers of RFID technology as gaming is one of the fastest growing industries in existence.  If anyone has any doubts to this, try finding a shopping plaza these days that doesn’t have a GameStop store.

As RFID technology continues to become more a part of our daily lives it stands to reason that we will see even more breakthroughs in the areas of entertainment in the years to come.  And with the consumer of this technology being much more tech savvy than previous generations, companies are going to be forced to push the envelope of innovation in order to capture market share. 

This is good news for consumers and RFID alike.

Image credit: Activision Publishing, Inc.

RFID Making Fresh Produce Cool

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Dec 13, 2011 @ 10:22 AM

Tags: RFID, Sensors, Food Safety, Agriculture, Cold Chain, Temperature Monitoring

Cold ChainI have to admit that I buy organic milk, not just because I think it’s healthier for my family, but because I can stock up on it without the risk that it’ll go bad before we use it. Why does organic milk have such a longer shelf-life than regular milk? Maybe they’ve figured out something that the others haven’t. Maybe it’s Intelleflex.

Recently, the company developed what they call the Cool Chain Quick Scan. It helps farmers and shippers identify spots in their temperature-controlled supply chain - or cold chain - to improve freshness. This may sound familiar to you because during our 100 Uses of RFID program, we blogged about RFID enabling temperature tracking in real-time for sensitive, pharmaceutical shipments. Now we learn about it being used to track produce temperatures, which makes a ton of sense. 

The time for fresh produce to be harvested, cooled, processed and shipped can vary by hours and is influenced by several external factors beyond the farm. Air temperatures of refrigerated vehicles add to the complexity because they vary significantly, potentially causing the food to go bad before it reaches the store. That could explain the condition of the avocados I see in my supermarket.

The Cool Chain Quick Scan replaces guesswork, visual inspections and First In/First Out inventory methods, with a snapshot of the cold chain. It identifies, measures and documents the impact of the temperatures on the produce. The monitoring is continuous - from the field, to the pack house, through distribution, and finally the retail store. It sounds tedious, but with RFID, it’s easy and cost-effective.

RFID tags that use light, temperature and humidity sensors, are placed on the produce and processed as usual. For example, tags could be placed with produce in the field during harvest, or in pallets being transported from the pack house to distribution centers. Readers and condition monitoring tags use battery-assisted, passive RFID to read through pallets and containers with precision. The tags are removed at the pack house and mailed back to Intelleflex for analysis that is included in a detailed report, including:

  • Temperature variation that the product is experiencing
  • Amount of shelf life lost due to temperature issues
  • Impact on customer satisfaction
  • Recommendations to improve temperature management

This level of reporting can help farmers, distributors and retailers develop cold chain best practices.

By transforming climate monitoring from trailer-, container- and warehouse-tracking devices to individual pallet tags, RFID can give fresh produce suppliers detailed visibility into the lifecycle of the produce. They can use this new found visibility and resulting best practices to reduce shrink and improve profitability. Every fresh produce supplier’s dream come through thanks to – of all things - RFID.

Top Three Tips for Avoiding Lost Luggage: RFID, RFID, RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Dec 09, 2011 @ 04:10 PM

Tags: RFID, Airplane Parts Tracking, Airlines, Baggage Tagging, ReadWriteWeb

RFID Baggage TrackingA while back, we blogged about airlines using RFID to track parts for inventory control. Now, it looks like more progress is being made in the airline industry around luggage tracking.

ThingMagic partner, Tagsys has developed an RFID-enabled luggage tag, the Permanent Bag Tag being used by Quantus Airways. The “Q Bag Tag,” containing an EPC Gen 2 passive RFID inlay is affixed to each bag. It’s also environment friendly. Each tag can be reused for an unlimited number of times. Here is how it works:

The RFID chip in the tag stores the details of several flights and can be reprogrammed at read points to use all over again on new flights.

After receiving a boarding pass, a passenger puts his RFID-tagged suitcase on the conveyor belt. A reader built into the conveyor reads the tag's unique ID number.

The traveler follows prompts on a touch screen connected to the RFID-enabled conveyor, indicating the type of baggage that he is checking in and how much it weighs.

The system activates the reusable Q Bag Tag and the conveyor belt takes the luggage into the handling system where it is sorted and screened via the RFID system.

Airline baggage handlers are able to see each bag's destination on a video monitor as the luggage passes an RFID reader.

The last two steps are probably the weakest link in a manual process that would inadvertently send your bags to Miami when you are going to Boston. 

The Permanent Bag Tag can also work without an RFID reader. They can be used to display passenger and flight data on a built-in, electronic paper-based screen. Airports that do not have an RFID infrastructure in place, can still use the tags that will display the passenger's name and flight number on the screen for the baggage handlers to see. This isn’t as error free as the full RFID system can be because it still requires an element of manual processing, but it can certainly help make it more efficient.

ReadWriteWeb wrote about RFID-enabled luggage as an example of the Internet of Things back in 2009. Their story focused on the more personal, human element. More specifically, customer satisfaction and brand loyalty. Wouldn’t you choose an airline if the odds of your bags arriving in the same city at the same time, were significantly higher?

So, again we learn how RFID can be used to easily re-invent a manual process, making it more efficient and helping to control variable costs. We also see (again) that RFID goes beyond business benefits to the airline, and yields added perks for the consumers that turn their travel into a positive experience. If RFID can be the reason your vacation travel goes off without a hitch, it deserves a special place in our everyday lives.

If you happen to be flying this holiday season, safe travels to you. And if you are flying with an airline that doesn’t use RFID this holiday season, here are some tips for keeping your bags with you, or at least making them easier to retrieve.  Good luck!

Tis the Season for RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Dec 02, 2011 @ 11:44 AM

Tags: RFID, Smart Displays, Retail, Item Level RFID, Smart Shelves

RFID HangerIt’s that time of year. With the holiday season in full swing, it seems like retail is the topic of choice for RFID stories lately. We last blogged about the mobile wallet and how it can enhance the check out process, which could have a huge consumer impact during this time of year.

And here's yet another way that RFID is improving the shopping experience and potentially helping boost sales. A department store in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan is the first to try out interactive hangers. When a shopper picks up a garment, RFID triggers one of the large screens above the rack to display a person modeling the clothes selected. Beyond the holiday season, this use of RFID could also have a huge impact on the back-to-school purchases, and even prom season.

Check it out here.

The hangers were developed by Tokyo tech firm Teamlab. They are regular hangers with a large central rectangle that houses the RFID tag. We didn’t find reports that included information on the RFID readers, but they could be placed on the clothing racks or ceiling mounted. The hangers can also be used to manipulate the music and lighting in the store. The diagram above depicts how the RFID system works.

We like it because it’s unobtrusive, as is the case with RFID in general. If you don’t care to see what the garment looks like on the model on the screen, simple. Don’t look up. It’s out of the way and can be easily ignored.

Many shoppers can be easily influenced by a positive image and I bet this is why retailers will like this solution. If a leather jacket looks good on the GQ model, I transfer that image to myself, I buy it and the marketer wins.

Take the concept one step further, what if the model on the screen showed us how to tie a tie or scarf and the various other ways it could be worn? That could be extremely useful, especially if it’s a new fashion trend.

This implementation of RFID reinforces that the technology can play a valuable role in all phases of the retail supply chain - from the manufacturer to the show room floor. While this use case may not be the driver for RFID being widely adopted in the retail sector, it shows that very intelligent people are thinking of creative, yet easy ways to integrate RFID into everyday processes.

Which one of your everyday activities can be enhanced with RFID?

Image Source: TechCrunch

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