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RFID Helps Kids Take Dora the Explorer on Road Trips

Nick on the Go is an optional service from Hertz that allows customers to rent media players pre-loaded with more than 40 hours of Nickelodeon programming. An active RFID system automatically tracks asset movements to help ensure there are enough units on hand at each Hertz location.
Mar 10, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

March 10, 2008—RFID is making it easy for parents planning family trips to make room in the car for Sponge Bob, Dora the Explorer, Jimmy Neutron, and the entire Rugrats ensemble. Hertz rental car customers can get these and other television shows from the Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. networks pre-loaded on a portable media player that can be rented with the vehicle. The program, called Nick on the Go, started last December and is currently available at 43 US airports, where RFID readers automatically keep track of media players that are distributed and returned.

"The system allows us to see the entire US on a graphic. It is reading in real-time what inventory is on hand at all 43 airports," Josh Wallack told RFID Update. Wallack is president and CEO of Miami-based CR Media, which owns and manages the portable players and is responsible for making sure there is adequate inventory at all participating Hertz locations. "It's tracking our 'warehouse,' but our warehouse is the whole country."

The program launched last December at 21 airports and was expanded to 22 more by mid-February.

"CR Media's role in the partnership is to be the logistics coordinator. We couldn't do it nearly as well as we do without the RFID system and really embracing RFID," Wallack said.

The portable players are pre-loaded with more than 40 hours of Nick programming and cost CR Media about $700 apiece to have manufactured. CR Media identifies each player with an active RFID tag from RF Code that is programmed with a unique serial number, the manufacturer's serial number, and other data so players can be tracked a variety of ways. RF Code readers at the airport -- players are only tracked at the Hertz facility, not after they leave -- feed data to TransitionWorks software from NCR, which provides real-time inventory visibility plus a variety of reports and alerts. CR Media typically uses the data to view available inventory at each airport and shift players as needed to meet expected demand.

"The reason we needed the system is we don't have access to Hertz systems. We would totally be flying blind without RFID," said Wallack. "We're a small company. The RFID system allows us to have our eyes and ears on our inventory 24/7."

The unattended system also provides some security by issuing text or e-mail alerts if suspicious usage patterns are detected. For example, if the reader detected five of the Nick on the Go players were being removed simultaneously from a single location in the middle of the night, it would send an alert summarizing the activity to CR Media, who could then contact Hertz to investigate.

"Once during a routine inventory check the system determined that a player was missing. We determined it had checked out of the storage room at 2:12 p.m. Hertz immediately checked its security tape," said Wallack. "It turned out that a manager had taken a unit into his office for training. That's not a problem, but it shows what the system can do."

Another anecdote shows a different way the system provides value. A customer in Detroit parked outside the Hertz office and returned all the player accessories and carrying case, but there was no player inside. The customer didn't know what had happened and pleaded with Hertz not to be charged a replacement fee. Hertz called CR Media for guidance on how to handle the situation. CR Media checked its inventory system, which showed the player was right there at the Hertz facility. A Hertz representative and the customer then rechecked the vehicle, and found the player lodged under the driver's seat.

"We saw it from headquarters in Miami when they couldn't see it standing right there in Detroit," said Wallack. "Things that are portable tend to get lost. That's what the RFID industry is all about -- helping find things that get lost."

See NCR's announcement
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