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RFID Marketing Rolls Out in Seattle

A company called Awarea, using RFID technology from AXCESS International, is furthering the roll-out of its Omni system next week in Seattle's downtown.
Tags: Privacy
May 26, 2005This article was originally published by RFID Update.

May 26, 2005—The scene in the blockbuster movie Minority Report when Tom Cruise's character passes by video advertisements that recognize and talk at him is one invoked often by those who seek to illustrate the future marketing uses of RFID. The idea is that with RFID tags embedded in clothing, the clothes' owners will broadcast identification and purchasing information about themselves that can be read and processed by nearby high-tech billboards to personalize the marketing pitch. "Hi Will Smith, we have a polo shirt on sale that would go great with those khakis you bought last week." Some are horrified by such a vision, cringing at the loss of anonymity and ever-increasing invasiveness of advertising. Others, particularly marketers, salivate at the thought of such interactive personalization.

Well the reality has arrived: a company called Awarea (whose site appears to be down), using technology from AXCESS International, is furthering the roll-out of its Omni system next week. After a successful year-long trial in Seattle's Pioneer Square, Awarea will deploy six RFID readers throughout downtown Seattle that will scan for signals emitted from passers-by carrying the system's key fob-style active tags. When such a tag enters the 30 to 100-foot range of one of the readers (called the "Omni-Zone"), the reader triggers an announcement on a nearby screen targeted personally at the tag's holder. Initially the system will serve as an aid for the handicapped, such that a deaf person is played a video of a person signing or a blind person is played an audio file. It will also eventually be used for tourist navigational services and as an emergency response aid.

But clearly, it is the marketing opportunity that Awarea is going after. "This personalized marketing to the consumer creates a new pathway to deliver advertising messages," said Awarea CEO Harry H. Hart III. Delivery of those messages is not the only benefit to retailers, however. According to The Industry Standard, Hart noted that "Data about the customer can be mined and sold to the retailers."

Such a naked admission of Awarea's data-mining goal for Omni will probably raise red flags among even the most moderate privacy advocates. Watch for the Omni system to be another publicity-generating lightning rod for RFID technology, not unlike the human-implantable VeriChip.

Read the Press Release
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