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AI, RFID Technologies Point the Way to Tagged Inventory

A New York department store is testing a StealthMatrix solution that uses gaming-style artificial intelligence and radio frequency identification to help sales associates locate a specific product in-store by viewing it on a 3D map and following arrows leading them to it.
By Claire Swedberg

The device can be used not only for counting inventory and identifying misplaced items, but also to locate products that need to be retrieved from the back room or the sales floor. For instance, some goods must be returned to a particular vendor if the season for those items has passed. In that case, users can input the items they seek, then quickly move throughout the store, following an arrow that points them to those goods, and remove them from store displays or from the back room.

In the future, stores could put some of the wayfinding functionality into the hands of shoppers. For instance, once the system knows where a product's location was last captured with an RFID read, that data is stored in the StealthMatrix software. A store could offer an app that a shopper could download in order to access some of that location information. StealthMatrix can work with the retailer and its available technologies to make this possible, Bride notes.

If a customer liked an outfit on a mannequin or display, for example, he or she could open the store's app and use his or her phone's camera to scan the QR code on the garment or accessory. The app would access the StealthMatrix location data, display the store's map and provide wayfinding to that specific item so the shopper could try on or purchase the same garment on display. StealthMatrix is currently in conversations with some of its customers about that wayfinding feature.

The ARC device can use its built-in RFID reader to further identify where a particular tag is located as a user approaches it; the device can read tags at a distance of about 20 feet. Thus, when a user comes within that distance of a tag, the RFID read transmission can be used to approximate its location, based on its signal strength.

StealthMatrix's AR functions have been developed with AI features commonly used by the gaming industry. The company says it is in the process of building a next-generation product that will be smaller and easier to handle for sales associates. The Manhattan-based department store, which has asked to remain unnamed, is currently piloting the solution to identify the movements of some goods throughout its departments. StealthMatrix's goal is to provide tools that will help brick-and-mortar stores compete with the online retail market.

In addition to the New York store, a fashion company that makes custom-designed dresses is planning to pilot the system in order to capture the location of each made-to-order dress at its facility in India. While several companies have asked about using GPS to locate the RFID tags (by capturing the device's GPS location as it reads the tags). that kind of technology is not sufficiently reliable for the use case of locating an item within a few feet, Bride explains. "We wanted to concentrate on the micro-level," she states, "by identifying one piece of merchandise and how it moves," in addition to where specifically it was last located.

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