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Barilla Uses RFID to Automate Home-Cooking

The Italian food manufacturer is marketing an RFID-enabled oven that captures instructions from a passive tag, then automatically mixes and cooks the ingredients; the company also has RFID plans in the works for its Safety for Food program.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 01, 2015

Italian food company Barilla has launched an RFID-enabled product, known as Cucina Barilla, that employs passive high-frequency (HF) RFID tags and readers to enable consumers to easily operate an oven dedicated to preparing and baking pasta, risottos, bread, pizza, focaccia and cakes.

The system is one of several initiatives Barilla has underway that use technology to improve the consumer experience by automatically accessing data about its products or their ingredients. Another example is a technology platform known as Safety for Food (S4F), designed to bring visibility to the path that food takes on its way to the store shelf. In that way, consumers can easily access supply chain data and ensure that the products they buy are fresh. That solution currently uses QR codes to accomplish this visibility, says Andrea Belli, Barilla's technical project leader for quality and food safety, though the company is exploring the use of both passive and active radio frequency identification technology to help track those ingredients. S4F software and integration is provided by Penelope SpA, while Cisco is supplying the network connectivity.

Barilla's Andrea Belli
Approximately five years ago, Barilla began working with RFID technology provider ID-Solutions (a spinoff company of the University of Parma RFID Lab). Then, three years ago, it worked with Whirlpool to develop Cucina Barilla, by which the appliance manufacturer could sell a specialized Barilla-branded oven, created with the help of ID-Solutions. Barilla envisioned offering the oven—for sale to Italian consumers—to operate in conjunction with Barilla products, enabling customers to prepare and cook meals based on data specific to a particular product's recipe. The oven includes microwave and conventional oven components, as well as a pump and a motor to add water to pasta or other dry ingredients and mix them together.

Each Barilla kit contains the ingredients for cooking one of many dishes, including pasta, risottos, bread, pizza, focaccia and cakes. Attached to the side of each kit is an RFID tag. When a user places the tag near an oven's display screen, a built-in RFID reader captures that tag's unique ID number, enabling the oven to recognize the kit and automatically set the appropriate cooking procedure and timing.

In addition, the oven has a "delay" function. "Consumers can program the cooking and have the dish ready at a time of their choice," Belli says, "so that they can wake up in the morning to the smell of fresh bread or come home after work and find dinner ready."

To automatically program the oven to make each recipe, as well as to display some manual instructions for a user, Barilla considered the use of linear or 2D bar codes, in addition to HF or ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive RFID tags. Barilla worked with the University of Parma RFID Lab, in conjunction with ID-Solutions, to determine which technology would be best for the solution, says Andrea Volpi, ID-Solutions' chief operating officer.

The group determined that for several reasons, 13.56 MHz HF RFID technology compliant with the ISO 15693 standard would be the best option, according to Francesco Fantoni Guerci, ID-Solutions' CEO. First, Barilla did not want to require that the ovens connect to the Internet, so the appliances needed to be able to access instructions for each recipe without having to retrieve them from a server. In addition, because the company intended to add new recipes over time, with the addition of new products, the oven needed to be able to receive new data with the use of each product. Barilla also wanted to ensure that each ingredient kit used to make a meal had a unique identifier that the oven would accept only once. After a kit was used to make a meal, the oven's reader would no longer recognize its tag's ID, thereby ensuring that consumers did not try to use that same tag multiple times but with their own ingredients. (This process could negatively impact the quality of what should be a Barilla product, he explains).

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