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U.K. Auto-ID Center Focuses on Small, Midsize Firms

The facility re-creates a small town to demonstrate how RFID works in real life, and to instill visitors with new ideas about how to profit from the technology.
By Rhea Wessel
Apr 29, 2008The European Centre of Excellence for Automatic Identification and Data Capture (AIDC UK), located in Halifax, England, is completing the installation of a 1,000-square-meter (10,760-square-foot) automatic-ID demonstration center. In addition, the center is expanding its offering of training courses and consulting to companies.

Opened in November 2007, the facility offers the largest demonstration center for auto-ID technologies in Europe and has already hosted visitors from two dozen countries. These visitors came to learn about the possibilities of auto-ID technologies, including RFID, by attending lectures and touring the demonstration center, which consists of a model of a small town. "Visitors can walk down the street where you or I may live," explains Ian Smith, the CEO and cofounder of AIDC UK. "They'll see a hospital, a town hall, a library, a logistics center, an airport, a bank and a recreation area. They can see how the technologies are changing our lives."

Ian Smith
For instance, visitors can push a dolly containing a parcel bearing an RFID tag with a temperature sensor, then load that package onto a truck. A reader interrogates the tag and sends back location and temperature information that is visible on a screen. The exhibition demonstrates smart shelves that employ RFID to help store owners keep shelves stocked. What's more, visitors can pass a shopping trolley, or cart, through an RFID portal and instantly read a complete list of its contents on a screen, illustrating a wheel-through checkout process at a supermarket.

Most of the demonstrations tell a story, Smith says. "In the logistics area, you can see goods received, put away, picked, dispatched and delivered, and all the reverse processes for returned items." And in the travel section, visitors can experience, for instance, RFID-enabled passport control, baggage tracking and mobile phone ticketing. "By showing how the technology works in real life," he explains, "the center sparks the imagination of small businesses as to how best to use RFID in their own environment. Their knowledge of the possibilities is expanded."

While RFID plays a large role at the center, Smith says, the facility covers the entire gamut of auto-ID technologies, including bar coding. "If we had just focused on RFID, it would have been short-sighted," he states, adding, "While an important and rapidly developing technology, RFID may not be the AIDC answer in every case. We want to be sure potential users select the most appropriate technology for their application."

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