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First RFID/Bar Code Scanner

NCR recently showed off a prototype for a point-of-sale device that can read both bar codes and RFID labels.
Sep 27, 2002Sept. 27, 2002 -- There are some people who believe that they won't see RFID labels being used to track individual items in stores in their lifetime. In fact, the first testing of such a system could begin before their next birthday.

NCR prototype
At the Frontline Solutions conference in Chicago this week, NCR Corp. and Alien Technology showed off a prototype of a stationary point-of-sale device that can read both bar codes and RFID tags. NCR plans to refine the prototype and expects a major retailer to begin testing the feasibility of the device within a year.

Both NCR and Alien are technology board members of the Auto-ID Center. Alien is working to create ultra-tiny chips to power low-cost RFID tags. NCR is the leading maker of stationary bar code readers for checkout counters, with 37 percent of the market in 2001, according to Venture Development Corp. The company installed the world's first bar code scanner in a supermarket in 1974.

The new device combines NCR's laser scanner with an Alien RFID reader. Jeff Jacobsen, Alien's senior vice president of new market development, says the components for the RFID reader are fairly small and can be squeezed into existing bar code scanners. "You may be able to retrofit a lot of point of sales terminals that are out there," he says.

To the cashier and consumer, the appearance and operation of the hybrid scanner (see photo) is identical to bar code scanners already installed in most stores. Data from the bar code or the RFID tag -- or both -- are transmitted to in-store computers via the retailer's existing network.

A device that reads both bar codes and RFID labels is important because it allows companies to evaluate the benefits of RFID tracking without disrupting their existing bar code system. It also gives retailers the flexibility to tag fast-moving items that are often out of stock, without having to make the massive investment in infrastructure that would be needed to convert from bar codes to RFID all at once.

"Item-level RFID tagging will eventually change the world and the way we know retailing," says Pierre Abboud, vice president and general manager for NCR RealScan, the company's bar code scanner line.

Alien has also agreed to support the Universal Data Appliance Protocol (UDAP) developed by Savi Technology. Savi originally developed UDAP for the military as an openly licensed protocol for networking automated data collection devices like RFID readers.

That means that companies could buy readers from Alien and other manufacturers and link them in the same network. They could all feed data into Savi's Web-based SmartChain software platform for tracking assets.

Alien is the 20th company to join the UDAP Interoperability Alliance. Other members include 3M, Checkpoint Systems, Matrics, RF Code, SCS Corporation, SAMSys, Sensormatic, Technology Systems International, and VYTEK Corporation.
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