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FloorTrak Combines RFID With Video to Count Retail Customers

Time Domain Corp. has integrated its real-time location system with ShopperTrak's video-based technology to enable retailers to better determine the number of shoppers visiting their stores.
By Beth Bacheldor
Jan 16, 2009Time Domain Corp., a provider of a real-time location system (RTLS) based on ultra-wideband (UWB) RFID technology, has teamed with ShopperTrak RCT Corp., a firm that helps retailers and other clients track and analyze customer traffic via video cameras and business-intelligence software. The two companies have combined their respective systems to create FloorTrak, a retail solution that can monitor the locations and movements of employees using UWB technology, then merge that information with data collected by video cameras to obtain a more accurate picture of the flow of shoppers through the store, as well as their interactions with employees.

Time Domain's PLUS platform consists of active UWB RFID tags, interrogators, ceiling-tile antennas, synchronization distribution panels and software. UWB tags emit a series of extremely short signals (billionths of a second or shorter), each spanning a wide band of frequencies between 3.1 and 10.6 GHz. The pulsed signals act much like sonar waves, enabling the system to determine distance by measuring the length of time it takes a pulse to travel from one point (such as a tag) to another (such as an interrogator), and using time distance of arrival (TDOA) technology to calculate a person's location.

ShopperTrak's Orbit device utilizes two on-board video cameras with high-speed processing components that compile and analyze the video collected. The cameras can be installed at chokepoints, such as at the entrances to stores and dressing room areas, to unobtrusively track patrons' movements and compile that information into customer counts.

The difficulty, however, is that Orbit is unable to distinguish between staff members and customers. So to obtain a more exact count, the two firms combined their technologies so employees could be separated out from the customer counts. Workers can wear Time Domain's PLUS RTLS tags placed on lanyards, or behind their nametags. Each RTLS tag transmits a unique ID number that can be correlated with a specific employee in the FloorTrak solution.

FloorTrak includes a PLUS reader and the Orbit video sensors, connected to each other via a cable. The devices can be positioned above each store or dressing-room entrance, or above a pass-through area. When a tagged employee moves through a coverage zone, the PLUS reader captures the tag's unique ID, which is transmitted to the Orbit sensor and processor unit.

In order to enable the PLUS system to work with Orbit, Time Domain had to adjust its interrogator so its read range, or zone—the area surrounding a specific chokepoint—would match the range of the Orbit system, explains Greg Clawson, the company's VP of sales and marketing. "We match the UWB read zone with the video read zone," he says, "and that is important because you don't want to capture employees that are near the chokepoint."

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