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Drents Museum Uses RFID to Create a Personalized Visitor Experience

By issuing entrance tickets with EPC passive tags, the Dutch history and art museum can track its visitors' interests, and eventually deliver content tailored to each individual.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 13, 2013

When the Drents Museum, in the Netherlands city of Assen, planned the construction of a new wing, it sought to incorporate technology that could help it understand which exhibits were of the most interest to guests, thereby better managing which items should be on display at any given time, and where, while the bulk of its inventory is housed in storage. In addition, the history and art museum sought a way to tailor each person's visit and enable that guest to take the experience home with him or her, via a Web site dedicated to that individual's specific interests.

To enable these functions, the museum installed an RFID system that was taken live in November 2011, when the new wing opened. The technology was collaboratively developed by the museum and Dutch RFID provider Ferm RFID Solutions. The system consists of passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 RFID cards, which serve as admission tickets; fixed readers installed at the new wing's entrance and exits, as well as throughout the existing facility; and RFID-enabled kiosks that read each card presented by a visitor, and link that card's ID number with the topic that the individual selected on the screen as being of interest (such as a specific type of painting). Upon returning home, the user can then enter the same ID number, printed on the back of that person's card, and access that information on Drents' Museum Plus Web site.

Marc Flederus, Ferm RFID's CEO and co-owner, holding one of the Drent Museum's RFID-tagged tickets in his hand

Software for interpreting RFID read data was created by Hans Ruedisueli, who is now employed at Ferm RFID. The software, known as Trovato, links a user's RFID ticket ID number with data on the kiosk, enables that information to be viewed online, and tracks each card's movements throughout the museum, for the purpose of business analytics. The first RFID card user was the Netherlands' Queen Beatrix, says Marc Flederus, Ferm RFID's CEO and co-owner.

The technology was developed as part of a modernization project for the museum, according to Annabelle Birnie, Drents Museum's director. The museum sought a way to improve the experience for the 253,000 visitors that it receives on average per year, and to better understand which exhibits were the most popular, using the same technology. Approximately 80 percent of the museum's artifacts (artwork, as well as historical and pre-historic specimens) are in storage; therefore, the museum felt it was important to know which objects may be less popular, so that they could be swapped out more quickly for other items that may generate greater interest.

Ferm RFID provided the biodegradable RFID cards, which were developed in partnership with Italian RFID tag manufacturer Smart Res specifically for this application, Flederus says. The process involves placing an EPC Gen 2 Impinj Monza 5 chip and antenna directly on the paper used to manufacture the card, thereby integrating the tag directly into the card, and reducing the amount of material necessary to manufacture it. The museum needed the card to be readable at any orientation at a distance of about 3 to 5 meters (9.8 to 16.4 feet) from the reader. "The other challenge was to build a card that is completely biodegradable—the paper, printing and glue," Flederus states. "This card is based on only paper and a piece of copper wire—no etched antenna or PET plastic inside."

Motorola FX7400 and FX 9500 readers, each containing eight Motorola AN480 antennas, are installed throughout certain parts of the museum, and can read tags at a range of up to 5 meters (16.4 feet). When an individual enters a particular section of the facility, a fixed reader captures that person's ID number once he or she arrives, and again when that individual leaves. The museum was especially interested in measuring attendance within the section of the new wing dedicated to rotating exhibits, Birnie notes, since the displayed material in that area changes frequently, making it more difficult to analyze the popularity of a particular piece of art or artifact. That section represents approximately 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) of the museum's total 7,000 square meters (75,350 square feet). Readers are installed throughout the remaining 6,000 square meters (64,600 square feet), in order to create a mesh network.

Since the museum installed antennas close together, the system can often capture RFID reads from several antennas, thereby enabling greater granularity of location information. Initially, 14 readers and 45 antennas were installed, while the facility's children's section has four readers and about 15 antennas. As an individual walks throughout the museum, the software can track where that person's card travels, and how long it lingers in front of specific exhibits. The software is still collecting that data from each card, and is storing it to be reviewed in November of this year, once the software has accumulated two years' worth of tag data. The lengthy trial period, Birnie explains, is necessary in order to weed through the many visits and screen out unusable data that can occur in certain instances, such as when a visitor leaves a ticket in the pocket of a coat he or she checked at the entrance. And if a family member were to carry the tickets of other members of his or her party, that event would also render the data unusable. The software will determine which ticket reads are of value and which are not, Birnie says.

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