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RFID Plays Matchmaker to Socks

An online clothing company named Blacksocks has introduced tagged men's dress socks, along with an RFID reader and an iPhone app, to simplify the process of pairing them up.
By Claire Swedberg
After the socks are laundered, the wearer can put the reader to use once more, by waving it over a pile of clean socks. The Sock Sorter lights up when it detects a tag, and further alerts the user when that sock's mate is located. In this way, Liechti explains, the user eliminate the risk of wearing one much older sock with a new one. Typically, the reader must be located between 2 inches and 5 inches from the tag in order to read it.

Blacksocks' Samy Liechti
The app may be used not only to pair up socks, but also to calculate the number of times that they have been washed (based on the how frequently the tags have been interrogated). In addition, it also allows a user to utilize his iPhone to photograph his socks and determine whether they are black enough to continue wearing, or if one or both have become faded.

A starter kit consisting of 10 pairs of calf-length tagged Plus+ socks and a reader costs US$189.

The product was two years in development, Liechti says, beginning with the building of a prototype, once he found that no such reader yet existed that could be incorporated into the iPhone. Of the first prototype, he notes, "It looked very ugly, but it worked. So we started the design process for a first production lot of 10 readers." The result is a much sleeker and smaller model that fits in a person's hand. "Then we started the certification process (FCC and CE). Within this process, we realized that we had to make more changes. Finally, we got a green light for production."

The company began taking orders for the Plus+ socks last week.

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