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Chinese Opera Gives RFID Its Props

Taiwan's GuoGuang Opera Co. has deployed an RFID system from EPC Solutions Taiwan to help track the locations and distribution of thousands of costumes and accessories stored within its warehouse.
By Claire Swedberg

GuoGuang Opera's director, H.M. Zen, says the company does not expect to achieve a financial return from using the technology. Rather, it hopes to gain confidence that all of its costumes and props will be available when needed. "The main purpose of this system is to give us correct inventory, instead of saving money," Zen explains. "We also want to help actors find their props quickly. With this system, the actor doesn't need to memorize what props he may need for certain repertoire."

With the RFID system, the process of locating the necessary items becomes much easier than with the manual method, according to T.H. Liu, EPC Solutions Taiwan's president. Each costume or other item is fitted with an RFID tag, manufactured by EPC Solutions Taiwan. An L30 laundry tag is sewn into each garment's collar or other section with a seam, while an EPC B-112 button tag is attached to each piece of headgear, and an EPC M-203 on-metal tag is used for tracking swords and knives. The beards worn by some performers posed a particular challenge, since faux facial hair offers no space for a conventional tag to be attached. Therefore, EPC Solutions Taiwan developed a special tag that could be embedded in such a way that it would not interfere with a performer's ability to stroke his beard while on stage. The result is the M-731 tag, consisting of a thin wire antenna bonded to an Alien Technology Higgs4 RFID chip.

The M-731 tag (right), consisting of a thin wire antenna joined to an Alien Higgs4 RFID chip, was specially designed so it could be embedded unobtrusively in a beard.
Once each item is tagged and entered into the EPC Solutions software, residing on GuoGuang's server, it is assigned a location within the warehouse. At that location, a UHF RFID tag is affixed to shelving. As staff members put the goods away, they use an Atid AT880UHF handheld reader to capture the ID number encoded to the shelf tag, as well as the ID encoded to the tag of a garment or prop, in order to link the item to its location.

Warehouse staff can then conduct periodic inventory checks in the warehouse using the same handheld reader.

For performers of the company's latest opera—The Clever Mayor, opening on Dec. 6—the borrowing system is also RFID-enabled. Each actor has an ID card containing a passive high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz RFID inlay. When she holds her card against an HF reader installed at the warehouse doorway to gain entrance, the system reads her tag ID and displays a list of operas in production on a touchscreen mounted with the reader. She must then select the opera for which she is borrowing stored items. Once she has made that selection, the system displays a checklist of props or costumes that she will require, which includes not only the items' names, but also their locations within the warehouse where they were put away.

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