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Mercy Medical Center Preps RFID-Enabled Gift Shop

In an effort to streamline inventory management, purchases, theft reduction and sales promotions, volunteers working at the store will apply EPC Gen 2 tags to items for sale, and read them using RFID-enabled terminals.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
If a customer later returns an item with its tag still intact, the staff will be able to use that tag to call up the item transaction number, which they can utilize to locate the transaction in the POS database in order to process the return. (Customers looking to return non-tagged goods, or items whose tags have been removed, must present a sales receipt.)

During the RFID system's development, Trussell worked with Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas CEO Susan Barrett to sketch out the preliminary goals of the gift shop application. Trussell also turned to Craig Thompson, a computer science professor at the University of Arkansas. The university has an RFID research laboratory that has contributed considerable research in the field of supply chain RFID, and its computer science school has integrated RFID technology into its curriculum.

Thompson asked three students from his RFID middleware course to develop a software platform for the gift shop's RFID system that would meet criteria set forth by the medical center's IT department, while also serving as an academic project. Wesley Deneke and Evan Kirkconnell (both graduate students) and Jarrod Bourlon (an undergrad) took up the challenge, eager to get some real-world implementation experience under their belts.

"We had started the project working with RFID middleware developed [at the University of Arkansas] by a Ph.D. student," Deneke says, "but then decided to craft our own application." That way, they could customize the application to work side-by-side with the shop's POS computer system.

The trio proceeded to write the program, using the Java programming language and Microsoft's Access database software. The need to maintain the RFID tag database separate from the point-of-sale software presented some challenges, Kirkconnell says. Trussell says the request for separate systems was due, in part, to concerns that the amount of data the RFID system would generate could overwhelm the POS software.

According to Trussell, BIG is also working with the hospital to test an application that would generate personalized messages for shoppers who agree to wear an RFID-enabled badge into the store. He says the participants have not yet been selected, but will most likely be hospital staff members who frequent the gift shop. An RFID interrogator linked to a video monitor within the store would read the Gen 2 tag embedded inside the badge, causing product messages to appear based on the types of items the participant likes to purchase (as indicated in a profile submitted previously by that individual). A tag worn by someone interested in aromatherapy products, for instance, might prompt a message about a sale on scented candles.

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