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University of Arkansas Researchers Study How to Link Visual Identification Technology With RFID

The school's RFID Research Center and the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies will also try to develop standardized formats for VIT data, while testing the use of visual data with radio frequency identification for inventory tracking.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 28, 2013

Two University of Arkansas research groups—the RFID Research Center, at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, and the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences' Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies (CAST)—have teamed up to study ways in which to adapt emerging visual identification technologies (VIT) for retail applications, as well as how VIT systems could be used to complement RFID technology. VIT employs inexpensive 2D and 3D optical imaging technologies, commonly found in cell phones and videogame devices, to identify objects by color, shape and size, without the need for bar codes or product numbers. According to the researchers, VIT-based systems could be used to quickly recognize products on store shelves, add those goods to inventory lists, verify that they are at their correct locations and remove them from inventory upon checkout.

The researchers will test the VIT technology within the RFID Research Centers' retail environment laboratory, in order to learn how 3D VIT-based data regarding the objects' positions within a retail store could be coupled with RFID read data obtained from ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) readers to provide a more detailed item-level inventory count. The team intends to release the results of its testing in the fall of 2013.

The efforts are intended to not only standardize the use of VIT-based data, but also determine how an RFID system coupled with VIT technology could enhance the tracking of inventory on a store's shelves and at sales terminals, or other solutions intended to enhance the customer shopping experience.

CAST has developed software that analyzes data gathered by two- and three-dimensional optical imaging hardware. The software could be utilized for the purpose of geospatial location and mapping, as well as for shape analysis of objects, in order to help users equipped with cameras identify those items, as well as their locations in proximity with other nearby objects. CAST and the RFID Research Center are now working to create a set of standards for collecting and storing such data.

Justin Patton, the RFID Research Center's managing director, explains that VIT technology incorporates any camera-based device that takes an image and provides information about that image based on its size, shape or location. Google Goggles and Amazon Remembers applications, Patton says, are two examples of a 2D version of this technology. A person can take a picture using a mobile phone camera, and then upload that photograph. The Google Goggles application (for Android or iPhone handsets) or the Amazon Remembers app (for either the Android or Apple IOS operating system) will then compare that photo against a database of images and attempt to identify that natural or manmade object, based on its shape and color.

A 3D version of the same technology is being used for video games. The Xbox 360 solution employs an optical camera feed, by first emitting a field of light and determining an object's location based on the way that light is reflected off the item within that field, and then by overlaying what it has perceived on a video game image within a three-dimensional format.

The RFID Research Center team has been watching the evolution of this optical-based technology, as well as CAST's efforts, for several years, Patton explains. In fact, the CAST laboratory is located within the same building as the RFID Research Center. According to Patton, the groups have teamed up to address two concerns: standardization and the possibility of using VIT and RFID technologies together within the retail environment, in order to improve inventory information.

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