Finding my way around



 

Figure 1 Keeping tabs on tags keeps track of stock

I was at an exhibition recently and got lost – really lost, in the halls. I began to panic: “They close at six! And I cannot, for the life of me, work out how to get out of this hall and on to my next appointment”. Thankfully, I did find my way back to base, although I may take some breadcrumbs or a ball of string to mark my return route for my next foray into an exhibition hall. I was reminded of my condition (‘exhibition anxiety’) when I read about shops using RF to track products and to update prices on ePaper price tags. Finnish company, Noccela, has created a positioning app for a mobile phone that works with a smart tag on merchandise in a store to make sure that stock is monitored and controlled. Receivers analyse movements of the tag and can send an alert if it is taken out of a specific area of the store. If the tag ‘strays’ or is tampered with, a real time alert is sent to a mobile phone, showing its location. It can also be used, says Noccela, to alert assistants that a customer has picked up, so is interested in an article on the other side of the store and they can go there to help with the sale or offer more information. The real-time positioning system acts with the tag, which is accurate to 0.5meters (around 19 inches). The alarm is also activated and sent to all mobile phones equipped with the Cloud software if a tag is broken, the wire is cut or put into a foil-lined bad to try and evade detection. The app locates where in the store the activity is happening, classifies what kind of activity it is, and adds a time-stamp to help track any further evidence on CCTV. The second retail-related inspiration was from RFID Journal LIVE! in Orlando, Florida. Here, Powercast demonstrated a batteryless electronic Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) retail price tag which wirelessly updates an ePaper price display (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Just hanging around for price changes

It uses RF-to-DC power harvesting, saving on batteries and can update a shelf or rail of products in less time than it takes to put out the stock. Data is sent over the air using a standard UHF Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) reader. This can be handheld or fixed. The operating range is up to two meters (over six feet). Power is sent the same way, for reliable operation without requiring batteries or time consuming and expensive battery changes. The company’s PCC110 Powerharvester wireless power receiver chip is embedded in the price tag. When a reader is pointed at the tag, the chip converts RF to DC to power the tag, and updates the display with the new price in a few seconds. Powercast says that the tags can harvest enough power to “operate perpetually” from the UHF RFID reader. The tag is a segmented ePaper display from E Ink, chosen because it maintains the image when placed outside or directly powered by the UHF field. The concept tag is available for license now. Powercast will also work with customers to design batteryless price tags using the PCC110 chip. (An evaluation kit for the Batteryless Electronic UHF Retail Price Tag is expected at the end of the year from distributors Arrow Electronics and Mouser Electronics.) These examples of wireless connectivity set me thinking: if I could have a tag that can track where I am and in which ‘zone’ I should be, or helpfully display where I am headed, throughout long days, I should be able to navigate exhibitions in a timely and efficient manner    
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