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Makers of 3-D Glasses Focus on RFID

Dolby and Xpand are each releasing 3-D glasses with RFID tags that companies can use to track production and shipment, and also to help cinemas track inventory, sanitization and usage.
By Claire Swedberg
Dolby's next-generation 3-D glasses are compatible with its 3D Digital Cinema systems, and come with multilayer optical film lenses designed to reduce the weight and provide the best optical performance. The glasses have a list price of $12 apiece, according to Dolby, and are expected to be reused multiple times by moviegoers. However, to ensure that each new user of the glasses receives a clean, fully sanitized pair, theater employees must wash each pair at a high temperature after every use. And if the glasses malfunction, the cinema can return them to Dolby for repair or replacement.

The unique ID number encoded to the tag embedded in each pair of glasses is linked in Dolby's back-end system to the batch ID, the date of manufacture and any repair history. (Sijen declines to name the companies that produce the tags, or that supply the RFID readers and software that Dolby utilizes.) The firm has acquired fixed readers to capture the unique ID number of each pair of glasses at the point of manufacture, and to confirm that every tag is operating properly. Tags are read again as the glasses ship out of the facility, thereby providing the company with a record of each pair's transport to a distribution center or theater operator.

In the event that the glasses are returned, Dolby uses an RFID interrogator to read that pair's tags upon receipt, and then provides the necessary repair or replacement. By having manufacture and batch information linked to each ID number, Dolby has a reference for a specific pair of glasses, how old it is and from which batch it came.

Once a theater receives the glasses, it can then employ handheld or fixed interrogators to capture the unique ID number every time it sanitizes the glasses and then puts them back into the theater for reuse. After a pair is used, the departing theatergoer can deposit the glasses in a box located at the exit. The glasses then must be gathered and taken to a sanitization machine, where they are washed at a high temperature before being reused. After cleaning, the glasses are then taken back to a specific movie theater within the cinema, where they can be used by other moviegoers. With RFID tags, theaters could read the tags after they have gone through sanitation, as well as when they are taken to the theater to be reused. In this way, the cinema could maintain a record of each pair's usage, and ensure that all of the glasses are sanitized before being returned. "We expect that it will take some time for exhibitors to integrate RFID into their theaters," Sijen states, "but these are the types of use cases that exhibitors have expressed interest in."

All of Dolby's glasses are equipped with RFID tags, whether theaters use the technology or not. The company does not provide the software to manage the RFID reads, or the data culled from such reads. "We expect that other software companies serving this segment will provide the software to enable RFID," Sijen explains.

As a test, Dolby put its tagged 3-D glasses through hundreds of wash and use cycles to ensure they could withstand the rigors of the sanitation process, as well as customer use in movie theaters.

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