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RFID Captures Each Time Guests Throw in the Towel

A passive UHF RFID system from Towel Tracker enables health clubs, hotels and other businesses to track towels or other objects borrowed and returned, thereby reducing the loss of those items.
By Claire Swedberg
May 18, 2012While working at several health clubs, Steven Molewyk had observed how much money they often lost due to discarded or stolen towels. To address this problem, Molewyk founded Towel Tracker three years ago in Grand Rapids, Mich. The solution his company developed employs radio frequency identification to track towels and those who use them. Since the system became commercially available a year ago, however, the firm has received requests for it from companies in the hospitality, health-care, and oil and gas industries.

The solution consists of an intelligent receptacle for towels—though it could work with other items as well—that tracks which tagged items are placed onto and removed from its shelves, as well as who takes them. In this way, the system not only ensures that individuals return towels when finished using them, but can also help manage the device's emptying and refilling, thereby ensuring that inventory does not run out.

Towel Tracker's system uses EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags and readers to monitor towel usage and returns.
Many health clubs offer courtesy towels for members to use during visits, which they can then deposit in a laundry bin upon leaving. However, a large health club can often lose as many as 150 towels daily, Molewyk says, due to towels being carried out of a club in members' gym bags, or accidentally thrown away. Other towels are tossed on the floor, to be retrieved by health-club employees. Several health clubs have thus chosen to discontinue towel services, but some members cancel their membership if such a service is not provided.

For other companies, such as hotels, providing courtesy towels is non-negotiable—guests require them at poolside, as well as in their rooms, but still may be inclined to take them home. For example, Avi Resort and Casino, located in Laughlin, Nev., lost between 2,800 and 4,000 of its poolside towels annually, according to Jay Johnson, the resort's director of information technology. Johnson installed the Towel Tracker system 18 months ago, and reports that Avi lost fewer than 100 towels last year.

Towel Tracker's service amounts to a machine with two compartments, similar to a pair of vending machines standing side by side. One side of the device stores clean towels, while the other, with a second door, stores soiled towels that can then be transported to a company's laundry facility. The system has a built-in RFID reader that captures the ID numbers of all towels placed within it, with one antenna for each compartment.

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