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Ad Agency Kicks Back With an RFID-activated Beer Dispenser

At its Boston headquarters, Arnold Worldwide has installed a vending machine that uses RFID to dispense and manage the quantity of craft beer that it provides free to its staff.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 18, 2011After a hard day of work at the Boston headquarters of Arnold Worldwide, employees of the global advertising agency can enjoy a beer with coworkers at the company's lounge area, with the help of an RFID-enabled key fob. The solution, which enables the staff to treat themselves to a cold longneck thanks to a vending machine equipped with an RFID reader, has been in place since Nov. 2 of this year. Workers say the vending machine, known as Arnie, is innovative and fun to use. Arnie even has his own Web site, as well as Twitter and Facebook pages.

Arnold Worldwide provides advertising for clients around the globe, with a strong focus on creativity. The company's work includes Progressive's car-insurance company "Superstore" ad campaign, featuring Flo, in addition to Volkswagen's "Drivers Wanted" promotions. Each year, Arnold dedicates approximately $100,000 to implement creative ideas from its staff that promise to improve the working environment. One reason for undertaking such projects, says Anthony Stellato, Arnold Worldwide's creative technologist, is to develop creative ideas that the firm could then recommend to clients. A group of employees, for example, conceived of a beer vending machine for the lounge known as "Barnold," in which functions and parties are held. The company liked the idea enough to not only develop a technological solution to control how many bottles of beers each worker received, but also to serve up beers that it makes and bottles itself at a brew-on-premise (BOP) facility called Barleycorn's Craft Brew, located in Natick, Mass. The bottled beverages can be produced not only for the staff, but also for some of the firm's clients, such as a lager branded under a client's name and created according to a unique recipe.

To use the vending machine, an Arnold employee places his RFID key fob against the machine's RFID reader, located behind a pad that says "Hold Bling Here."

The company currently produces six different styles, including Arnold Pilsner, India Pale Ale and Scottish Ale, each with its own Arnold label. The beer is made exclusively for the vending machine, and is not sold commercially. In the past, alcoholic beverages have been served in Barnold only during organized events, requiring the presence of a bartender. Now, the vending machine provides daily beer dispensing to employees without the need for someone to tend bar. "We've had Barnold at the agency for years," Stellato says, "and it's been stocked with beverages, including brands from the clients we represent, like Jack Daniel's and Southern Comfort." However, he notes, such liquors were available to Arnold's employees only when a bartender was present. "We wanted to make it a place where people could socialize any time they wanted." With the Arnie machine in place, coworkers can now hang out after work and drink a beer, even when there's not a bartender on site.

Anthony Stellato, Arnold Worldwide’s creative technologist
The Arnie system was designed by Stellato and a craft-beer expert, while social-media experts helped to develop the data display on the vending machine's touch screen. Stellato says he modified a Dixie-Narco BevMax 3 vending machine to include a 125 kHz passive EM Microelectronic EM4100 low-frequency (LF) RFID reader compliant with the ISO 11785 standard. Additionally, he also created three databases that are hosted on a server. Attached to the vending machine is an Apple Mac Mini desktop computer that, he says, "acts as Arnie's brain." He wrote an interface in C++ for the software that links unique ID numbers encoded on RFID tags embedded in the key fobs that are issued to employees at least 21 years of age. A tag's ID number is linked to the individual to whom it is assigned.

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