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British Clothing Retailer Sees RFID as 'Enriching Experience'

Giulio is using privacy-protecting RFID technology from Friendly Technologies to determine which garments shoppers are interested in, and to prompt a touchscreen to display information about those products.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 20, 2014

Giulio, a fashion store located in Cambridge, England, has completed a four-month trial of a radio frequency identification system designed to track when garments are placed on or removed from a hanging rail, and to display information regarding those products to customers. The retailer now intends to install the technology at additional locations within its store.

The solution, known as an e-rail, was developed by Friendly Technologies, and includes what the company calls Silent Tags, because they respond to an interrogation only if they recognize the reader's password. The system also comes with software to manage the collected read data and thereby enable applications based on when a garment is placed on or removed from a hanging rail. The store next intends to expand the technology trial to cover more of its products hanging on rails or stacked on shelves.

An RFID reader installed at each end of an e-rail detects when hanging items are placed on or removed from the rod.
Humberto Moran, Friendly Technologies' managing director, draws a distinction between conventional EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags and readers and Friendly's proprietary RF Tracking technology, which he says uses a different protocol for identification (though the company's UHF readers and passive Silent Tags can also operate according to the ISO 18000-6C standard). The system is intended to flip the traditional RFID system on its head, he says: While traditional passive RFID tags simply respond to an interrogation by sending an ID number, in the case of Friendly's RF Tracking system, the reader assigns and transmits a unique, changeable identifier to each Silent Tag, allowing the tag's passive UHF chip to respond only if it recognizes that identifier. This process of identifying a tag and assigning it a unique ID is what the company describes as a polling approach. The reader identifies a tag and assigns it a unique 16-bit temporary ID for subsequent polling, then verifies each tag's continual presence by polling its temporary identity. Because the temporary ID is shorter than the tag's Electronic Product Code (EPC) number, the transmission process is faster, Moran says. What's more, since the ID is transmitted from the interrogator to the tag "and not the other way round," he adds, "the reliability of the system is significantly superior to that of comparable RFID systems."

Silent Tags can also be switched to standard EPC Gen 2 RFID mode, in which case they would simply respond to any EPC Gen 2 reader without requiring a specific identifier. Friendly Technologies manufactures its own interrogators, while it uses off-the-shelf UHF RFID tags and modifies them to work with the proprietary RF Tracking protocol.

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