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Italian Schools Automate Lunch Payments, Orders

A UHF RFID system from Cadan and RFID Global by Softwork enables employees to automatically collect lunch orders as children arrive at schools in the city of Casamassima.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 10, 2015

Five public schools in Casamassima, a city in Italy's Apulia region, are using a radio frequency identification solution to identify children as they arrive, and to automate the ordering and payment of each child's lunch. Since the system was taken live in fall 2013, the technology has reduced the amount of labor for school personnel, ensured that food isn't wasted due to over-ordering and enabled parents to make lunch payments online.

The system consists of a passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag attached to each student's backpack, a reader portal installed at each school's entrance, and software to manage the collected read data, issue alerts and make payment deductions for every meal. The solution is provided by systems integrator Cadan, using RFID hardware supplied by RFID Global by Softwork.

A passive UHF RFID tag, made with an Alien Technology Higgs3 chip, is attached to each student's backpack.
Casamassima has a population of approximately 19,000 people, with about 1,000 students (ages six to 10) attending the city's five primary schools. Traditionally, the students paid for meals using paper food stamps purchased by their parents at the municipal office, which the children then carried to school. A student handed a single food stamp over for each meal received at the cafeteria.

That process, however, was time-consuming for school personnel, who had to take the stamps from students and count them. If any question arose regarding whether a child was eligible for a meal (for instance, if he claimed to have lost his food stamp), the school opted to simply provide him with food. In addition, because the schools didn't know exactly how many lunch-buying students were present on a given day, they often purchased excess food, which was then discarded.

RFID Global by Softwork's Paola Visentin
The district, therefore, sought an automated system that would not only eliminate the need for paper stamps and the handling of those stamps, but also enable each school to purchase the exact quantity of meals required on a particular day from its food caterer. The schools also wanted a solution that would be easier for parents, enabling them to make purchases online and view when they would need to order additional digital food stamps.

"The main shortcoming of a manual food stamp system," says Carmelo Tommasi, Cadan's technical director, "was the lack of management supervision about expenditures in order to receive reimbursement." In other words, the schools simply didn't know how many students would be purchasing a lunch each day. And if there was doubt about whether a student was entitled to receive a meal, the school provided lunch even if that child's parents might not have paid for it, which cost the district money.

The district approached Cadan with the problem, and the company provided a software solution known as Kubos to manage the lunch-payment data, while also installing RFID readers to automatically identify students. Initial testing took place in Cadan's own test laboratory in early 2013, and the solution was taken live in September of the same year.

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