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RFID-enabled Vending Machine Dispenses Bottled Water

The S2C AquaDuct employs RFID not only to dispense five-gallon jugs of water, but also to accept empties and process deposit refunds.
By Beth Bacheldor
Jul 18, 2007Las Vegas startup S2C Global Systems and Fort Wayne, Ind., systems integrator and contract manufacturer Northern Apex have codeveloped an RFID-enabled vending machine able to dispense five-gallon bottles of water. The S2C AquaDuct not only automatically dispenses the jugs, but also accepts empties and provides deposit refunds to customers who return them.

Measuring 16 feet long, 8 feet wide and 7 feet high, the machine can hold 345 five-gallon plastic water bottles. A built-in RFID antenna and interrogator automatically read each bottle's passive 13.56 MHz RFID tag. The tags comply with the ISO 15693 standard and can withstand numerous wash cycles, as well as extreme heat and pressure. According to Matt Foreman, sales and business development manager with Northern Apex, the tags are encased in plastic and affixed to the bottom center of each bottle.

The S2C AquaDuct dispenses five-gallon bottles of water fitted with 13.56 MHz passive RFID tags.
The vending machine allows customers to purchase bottles of water using their credit cards. The built-in RFID reader documents the purchase of a bottle by scanning the tag's unique ID number at the point of purchase. When a customer places an empty bottle onto a tray at the side of the S2C AquaDuct, the interrogator reads the tag's unique ID and communicates that number to the vending machine's internal computer system. The system then correlates the ID number with the purchasing transaction, either processing a deposit refund to the customer's credit card, or providing a credit toward the purchase of a refilled bottle.

To circumvent any potential interference caused by the metal used in the vending machine's construction, Northern Apex developed a custom-molded end piece to be mounted in the tray where empty returned bottles are placed. "The plastic, nylon-type material shields the [tag's] antenna from the metal," Foreman explains.

In addition, Northern Apex factored in the remote possibility that some people might store empty bottles outside during winter months in regions that could experience very frigid temperatures. While the tags can withstand temperatures as low as -25 degrees Fahrenheit, anything lower could inhibit their ability to be read. "So we had to include a warning, in print, on the bottom of the bottle," Foreman says.

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