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Powershelf Adopts RFID With One-Penny Tag

The smart-shelf technology, from Compass Marketing, now features RFID readers built into the shelf labels and low-cost tags, proprietary to the system, with about a 3-foot read range.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 15, 2018

Compass Marketing says it has developed a one-cent ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag for its Powershelf brand that will work with its smart-shelf solutions to track products stocked on RFID-reader equipped shelves. The low-cost tag release is timed in conjunction with a UHF RFID technology functionality that the company is offering with its smart-shelf solution. The new tag has a shorter read range than traditional EPC UHF tags, says John White, Compass Marketing's CEO, and is designed for the smart-shelf application. In fact, the low-cost tag is designed for use only with Powershelf's proprietary software.

Compass, an Annapolis, Md., consumer goods marketing company, has accomplished the low-cost RFID tag, in part, by using less silicon than is built into traditional tags, White says, which means it also has a maximum read range of about 3 feet. That, he notes, is sufficient to determine whether a tagged product has been removed from an RFID-reading shelf. The tag is being made by a third-party vendor according to Powershelf's specifications. The Powershelf's built-in reader includes a UCODE G2 IC reader chip from NXP Semiconductors built into the electronic price label on the shelf.

The Powershelf technology was designed to enable stores to electronically update prices on small LCD screens mounted on product shelves. With a weight sensor, the system could detect if a shelf were empty, and forward an alert to store personnel or management indicating that status.

In 2015, the company added Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons made by Panasonic to the solution—which was known as the Intelligent Retail Shelving Solution—so that retailers could connect their customers with location-based content via a mobile app (see Panasonic Adds Bluetooth Beacons to Electronic Shelf Labels). The BLE system, including the BLE beacons, can be attached to the rails on which the smart-shelf labels are mounted.

The new low-cost UHF RFID tag is timed in conjunction with RFID technology rollouts among Powershelf customers, both brands and retailers. Supermarket chain Giant Eagle. The company is using the PowerShelf technology, with Qualcomm 3G networking, at some of its 299 stores, and will be incorporating RFID into some of that technology in recent months.

Food brand King's Hawaiian was among the first customers of the Powershelf solution, which traditionally consists of sensors on shelves to detect the weight of products on their surface, as well as a wireless connection to send that data to a server. Now, the company plans to trial RFID technology as well. In so doing, the brand hopes to learn how the system enables the company to identify specifically which item has been removed from or placed onto a shelf, based on tag reads—thereby providing more specific and accurate on-shelf information.

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