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Sixt Finds RFID Is Key to Improving Customer Service

The global car rental company has deployed the technology at about 200 branches to identify the locations of car keys, thereby reducing customers' waiting times and automating the collection of data related to when the vehicles are returned.
By Claire Swedberg

Due to such deficiencies, Boone says, the HF solution was not further deployed. Last year, however, the company began seeking an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID solution. The firm issued a request for proposal, and selected Vilant's solution, explains Antti Virkkunen, a Vilant cofounder who manages Central European operations from Vilant's Swiss office. Sixt found that UHF technology offers a more reliable and longer read range when tags are applied to key fobs, and is less expensive to implement. What's more, Vilant software on the readers could forward the collected read data to Sixt's own centralized car rental management software, which Sixt modified to include key location data based on information culled from the Vilant readers.

In late 2013, Sixt piloted the Vilant solution at its rental agencies at Switzerland's Zurich Airport and in downtown Zurich. Switzerland was selected because the vehicles rented within that country typically remain there, and it was faster to tag them for piloting than it would be in larger nations. Following two months of testing, Sixt decided to roll out the solution to its 200 largest rental facilities. The quantity of readers installed at each location varied according to the volume of cars rented there.

Vilant Systems' Antti Virkkunen
The 200-branch deployment took place throughout the course of six months. Each car's key fob was tagged with a Smartrac MiniWeb inlay, Virkkunen says. The sales counters employ ThingMagic M6 readers. Each worker's station contains two drawers for holding up to a total of 40 keys, and each drawer is equipped with an RFID reader antenna. Since the sales counters had already been designed to accommodate a future HF RFID system, no mechanical changes were necessary for the UHF installation.

For smaller branches Nordic ID Stix readers are used, connected to PCs via a USB cable, to read tags as keys are checked out or returned. This is controlled via local Vilant Engine software.

At some sites, lock boxes for returned keys have been equipped with ThingMagic Astra-EX readers. In this way, when customers return cars outside of normal business hours, they can deposit the keys in the box, and the reader will capture the tag's ID number and forward that information to Sixt's management software via a cabled local area network (LAN) connection—or, in more remote areas, via cellular transmission.

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