Pimp My Food Truck: RFID-Enabling the 21st Century Chuckwagon

Posted by Ken Lynch on Fri, Jun 28, 2013 @ 02:51 PM

Tags: RFID, Supply Chain, Food & Beverage, Inventory Management, Vehicle Tracking, Point of Sale

foodtruckIf you work or live in an urban area, you’ve most likely seen the trendy food trucks parked at busy intersections, parks and plazas, serving up cupcakes, lobster rolls and everything in between. (For those who’ve never partaken, here’s a sneak peek video into how they operate)

Mobile munching, though almost unrecognizable from the days of “chuckwagons,” has come back in full force for foodies all across America who enjoy the convenience of curb-side cuisine.   In fact, 91% of those familiar with mobile food trucks say that the trend is here to stay (see Infographic).  We see this every day outside our office in Kendall Square, with several food trucks setting up shop.  And just a couple of weeks ago Kendall Square hosted the Food Truck Festival of New England.   The trend has gotten so hot that Kickstarter – the social funding service – has gotten behind it.   Mei Mei, a Boston-based food truck business recently raised $35,000 on the e-fundraising site to finance turning their business into a brick and mortar restaurant.

Annual revenue from food trucks was $1.2 billion dollars in 2009 and there has been significant growth since, most of which could be attributed to customer loyalty. Locals are often lured in to trying food trucks for a few simple reasons 1) convenience 2) community 3) cuisine and 4) competition. Could food truck operators increase customer loyalty by implementing RFID?

1) Convenience: Part of the appeal in mobile dining is the convenience that it offers. Whether it’s across from the office or parked near a popular tourist attraction, a food truck provides a quick and easy meal on the go. In addition to geographic convenience, food trucks also offer a financial convenience with mobile payment options. While it may not be main stream yet, types of RFID technologies can allow for easy, on-the-go payment for patrons who may not have cash handy. Mobile-payment is not only convenient for the consumer, but also allows the business owner to track spending trends and implement a rewards program for their most loyal customers. As “the internet of things” continues to grow and expand, especially into the retail environment, the food truck industry is no exception. The Point-of-sale iPads that have been installed in trucks are streamlining payment, consolidating physical equipment and supporting franchises that also operate out of brick and mortar shops.

2) Community:  One unique aspect about food trucks is the sense of community they create. Aside from the physical communities that support these small business owners, the virtual communities online provide valuable promotion as well. Food truck owners rely heavily on word of mouth to grow their business. Similar to Cadbury and dwinQ’s social media deployment at the Olympics, RFID technology could also allow patrons to check-in to the specific food truck and notify friends and social media followers of their location, ultimately acting as a virtual word of mouth.   

3) Cuisine: It wouldn’t be a food truck without the food! The culinary treats that come from these mobile kitchens are just as delicious as their brick and mortar counterparts.  But one difference is they require a different kind of logistical planning. Fresh ingredients, prepared daily are a key part in the operational aspect of a food truck. Much of their product has to be prepared in advance in a physical location and then loaded into the truck every day.  With space at such a premium, ensuring that the truck is equipped with just the right inventory to last the day is crucial in ensuring profits in a business with notoriously arbitrary and often razor thin margins.  Managing inventory closely is another opportunity where RFID technology can make a big impact in food quality and customer satisfaction.   

4) Competition: The restaurant business is tough and highly competitive, and it’s no different with food trucks.   The cooking reality TV competitions and many cook-off competitions that happen around the country draw in hundreds of thousands of viewers and patrons respectively.  It’s the same in the food truck business. Every spring, Boston’s annual Food Truck Throwdown brings various vendors together to compete for coveted crowning as the best. Not a Beantown local? According to The Daily Meal, these trucks beat out thousands of others to be crowned the Top Ten Food Trucks in America

Ultimately, food trucks have changed the l landscape of dining options all over the country and continue to draw crowds. While the technology that drives the businesses may be “behind the scenes,” it surely plays a role in what makes them a success. From social media to location services, there are opportunities for food trucks to tap into RFID as a resource to grow and sustain their business.

The question is, who is going to be the first to pimp their food truck with these high-tech solutions?

 

Photo credit: David Stewart/Boston.com

RFID Revolutionizes the Electric Vehicle Industry

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Mar 07, 2012 @ 03:43 PM

Tags: RFID, Automobile Production, Electric Vehicles, Automobile Access, Vehicle Tracking

Electric Vehicle ChargingRemote car starters. Curtain side airbags. Cars that you can talk to and that talk back. Those luxuries are old news these days, having made their way into almost every car on the road.

Wireless cars that are connected to databases of information as well as connected to each other are being reported on a lot in the media today. It won’t be long before those cars are on the road telling their drivers where they can go for Sushi, and if they have a new email which can be displayed on the dash for safe viewing.

Electric cars were once thought of as futuristic, but these too have become a reality. Down the road (pun intended!), we should expect to be surrounded by them. Right now they are mostly compact and well suited for driving and parking in space-constrained metro areas. But because of the advantages they afford us, we see that industry grow, and grow successfully in part, with the help of RFID.

First let’s take a step back and review what RFID has done for the automotive industry as a whole.

Location of Cars

How many times have you been so ready for a vacation, eagerly taking the keys from the rental car agent, only to spend 30 minutes waking around a hot parking lot with your family and suitcases because you can’t find your car? We’ve seen how RFID with GPS makes this practice a lot more convenient for the customer and far more efficient for the rental agency. The benefits are clear: visibility of all cars in the lot; immediate availability of cars as they are needed; improved inventory management so popular cars are on-hand more often; and reduction of paperwork and manual record keeping. A no brainer!

Parking Garage Access

The type of RFID implementation to locate cars also works for fleet management and parking garage access and payment. Long-range identification in combination with high-speed RFID is the best option for hands-free identification of cars as they enter and exit a parking facility. Parking facilities and parking garages at airports feel the pressure to find ways to grow revenue. RFID helps achieve that goal by bringing increased efficiency, security and convenience, while minimizing environmental impact. Pretty soon we won’t need to remember to bring our parking tickets with us to pay the cashier before we leave a garage, which is obviously not very convenient.

Anti-theft

We’re not talking about LoJack, although that does use radio frequency for location tracking. We’re referring to a use case where European manufacturers used RFID as “car immobilizers.” The keys are equipped with an RFID tag, and an interrogator installed in the steering column. In order to start the vehicle, the reader validates the unique identification number from the RFID-enabled key. A duplicate key would not be able to start the car because it wouldn’t be able to pass the reader’s verification without the tag.

Recharging Stations

Now, getting back to the electric car. The advent of this development has brought about another automotive market need that RFID is helping to serve - wireless charging stations.

EV-Charge America’s approach to electric vehicle charging stations uses a wireless, networked, meshed-LAN array of subscription-based stations that can be located anywhere with Google Maps, OnStar, hand-held devices and smartphones. Once at an EV Charging Station, drivers can unlock it, activate it and start the flow of electricity by waving their RFID-enabled key ring in front of the unit's reader.

To charge an EV at IKEA San Diego, drivers swipe their RFID-enabled Blink InCard, plug the charger into the EV, and then shop at their leisure in the IKEA store while the vehicle is charging.

Coulomb Smartlet charging stations will eventually let drivers use an RFID-enabled credit or debit card to pay for their electricity.  Subscribers are issued cards equipped with a high-frequency passive RFID tags so they can simply hold their card up to an RFID interrogator embedded in the Smartlet unit.

A ZigBee transceiver, compliant with the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, is used to pass the captured data to a ZigBee gateway, which then passes the data to a central server containing software that validates the card's ID number and account status – in real-time. Not to mention that the signal between the card and reader will be encrypted to secure the data transmitted by the cards. Without this added protection, people would most likely hesitate to take advantage of the benefits of paying with RFID credit and debit cards.

In the same way that RFID is reshaping aspects of the retail and healthcare markets, it is revolutionizing the Electric Vehicle industry which is still arguably in the nascent stage. If it can help shape an industry that has not had time to mature, imagine what RFID can do for a well established industry.

Dude, Where’s My Car? RFID Knows.

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Jan 16, 2012 @ 01:31 PM

Tags: RFID, Automobile Access, Vehicle Tracking

RFID Vehicle TrackingImagine this scenario for a minute.  You’ve got a couple of hours between meetings and have to run an important errand outside the city limits.  No problem you say, I’ll login to my Zipcar account, reserve a car for an hour or so and be on my way.  You get the confirmation email letting you know that your car is parked somewhere between #100 – #500 Center St.  As it turns out, a lot of cars are parked in this location, and did I mention that it’s raining? So much for a simple transaction and convenience, you’ve just wasted 30 minutes of your available time trying to locate your car and will now be hard pressed to complete your errand in time to be back in the office for your next meeting.

Hello GPS and RFID

Now most people are familiar with GPS technology and have probably used one of these devices at some point in order to navigate an unfamiliar route and get to their destination. However, as illustrated in the example above, a GPS doesn’t help all that much if you can’t find your car.  Or can it? A new car service known as Car2go which launched in the summer of 2010 in Austin TX, has found a way to implement GPS and RFID technology to help its customers instantly locate and gain access to their cars.

Here’s How it Works

Using an iPad app, the GPS device in the car points you to the precise location of the car you have reserved. No more searching general locations and wandering up and down the streets or through parking lots.  Once you have arrived at your car, RFID makes things really easy.  Simply tap your membership card on the windshield and the doors open. The membership card contains the RFID tag and the windshield contains an embedded RFID reader. Now you can grab the keys from the glove box, punch in some numbers on the keypad and you are on your way.

This just another example of how companies are finding ways to incorporate RFID technology into every day functions to make our lives easier.  It’s no longer a technology that is reserved to address big business issues related to supply chains and distribution channels, or to make possible game-changing hospital procedures. Keep following along as we reshape the way you think about RFID.

Cleaning Up Hazardous Materials with RFID

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Sep 14, 2010 @ 04:00 AM

Tags: RFID, Vehicle Tracking, Waste Management

Manhattan Project Site Transition to an Industrial Park Uses RFID for Waste Management

“Takedown of the West Wing at the K-25 Plant in Oak Ridge Is Complete.” That was the headline this past January in a United States Department of Energy (DOE) newsletter.

West WingThe DOE’s East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP), originally the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant, was established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project. The ETTP site was designed to produce enriched uranium for nuclear weapons operations. Following World War II, the Plant was renamed the Oak Ridge K-25 Site. It was eventually shut down in 1987.

Most of the K-25 site's process facilities were constructed in the 1940s and 1950s. The waste that was generated at the time: construction material; process fluids; and auxiliary materials used in the gaseous diffusion process, are considered hazardous under today's standards. Most of the plating waste, waste solutions and trash contaminated with radioactivity was disposed of between 1975 and 1989. According to a story in RFID Journal, the K-25 plant was estimated to have generated more than 300,000 cubic yards of waste materials for packaging, transportation and disposal.  

The DOE’s long-term goal for ETTP is to convert the site into a commercial industrial park. The site is undergoing environmental cleanup conducted by DOE’s environmental management contractor, Bechtel Jacobs Company. The decontamination and decommissioning of the seven square-mile section of the Oak Ridge Reservation as well as the building complex, will pave the way for its redevelopment and reuse.

So where does RFID come in? Every shipment resulting from the clean-up requires information regarding the waste, the trucks carrying it and the inspection results. More information must also be captured once the waste is received at the disposal facility.

Bechtel Jacobs decided to implement a solution using EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags and a combination of fixed RFID readers and RFID handheld computers. An RFID tag is attached to each truck in the fleet containing its identification data. Shipping data is then written to the vehicle's RFID tag. What used to take several manually completed forms is now a process that employs reusable passive RFID tags. The RFID Journal story on this deployment also reported that one tag will be encoded with information up to eight times a day and will be read between 40 and 50 times during that same time period.

Not only does the RFID system reduce the paperwork associated with each shipment, it makes the overall operation more efficient and helps the DOE develop best practices that can be used for similar projects in the future.

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