Single Solution Counts Inventory, Tracks Movement, Thwarts Theft

U.K technology company PervasID says its Multi Ranger is designed to accomplish all three functions with a single overhead reader in a store measuring 200 square meters or less, with antennas in the back room and storage area, and at the exit.
Published: November 6, 2018

In-store RFID technology deployments most commonly have depended on handheld readers carried by sales associates to interrogate tags for inventory counts, as well as separate systems for loss-prevention and point-of-sale (POS) capture. A higher-cost alternative involves installing readers at multiple locations throughout a store, including on the sales floor and in the back room, to achieve real-time visibility of onsite inventory, says Sabesan Sithamparanathan, the co-founder and CEO of PervasID. Both alternatives, however, are costly for retailers, he says. A solution including handhelds requires time on the part of sales personnel, while fixed readers are expensive to install.

In either case, Sithamparanathan notes, if retailers want to track tags for electronic article surveillance (EAS) or POS purposes as well, several solutions would typically be required. For that reason, PervasID has released a new offering that allows retailers to employ a single RFID reader for goods receipt, back-area storage, sales-floor purchases and EAS purposes, which the company calls the Multi Ranger. The system was announced at the RFID Journal LIVE! Europe conference and exhibition, held this week in London, England.

A typical Multi Reader deployment

The solution consists of a single PervasID UHF RFID Space Ranger reader installed in the ceiling—provided that a store measures about 150 to 200 square meters (1,615 to 2,150 square feet) in size—along with antennas deployed in the receiving, storage and sales-floor areas, as well as in doorways. For such an installation, Sithamparanathan says, the system would be priced at less than 50 percent of the cost of equivalent systems.

“We believe the new Multi Ranger, for the first time, makes RFID cost-effective for many retailers,” Sithamparanathan states. The return on investment (ROI), he says, will center around reducing stock needs mark-downs, as well as achieving sales uplifts, based on more accurate inventory data, a decrease in the sales staff required to interrogate tags via handheld readers and the ability to prevent loss by identifying which item leaves the store, and when this occurs.

PervasID was founded by researchers at the University of Cambridge, with a system called the Space Ranger that offers a 99 percent-plus detection rate of UHF RFID passive tags in a wide area or room (see U.K. Startup Company Launches Wide Area EPC RFID Prototype System and PervasID Releases New Reader With 75 Percent Fewer Antennas). The reader can accomplish such a rate via the firm’s patented distributed antenna system (DAS), with which the device can transmit RF signals across wide areas and identify RFID tags within a defined cell. Cells can be added to cover what Sithamparanathan says could be an infinite read area, with the addition of antennas.

Until now, the company has sold its solutions for portal or wide-array overhead reading, or for loss prevention at its retail installations. At one location, for instance, PervasID provides 100,000 tags that are read by numerous Space Ranger readers within a 4,000-square-meter (43,000-square-foot) area, and the retailer (which has asked to remain unnamed) has reportedly achieved a read accuracy higher than 99 percent.

PervasID also sells its Portal Ranger to interrogate tags as they pass through portals, such as dock doors at warehouses or stores. There, Sithamparanathan says, the Portal Ranger can capture tag IDs at nearly 100 percent accuracy, even if tags are attached to tightly packed electronics, batteries or other items that might be moving through a portal in a metal shopping cart or a roll cage, or that may be stacked on a pallet.

The company’s Security Ranger reader is designed for wide-aisle reading at entrances up to 8 meters (26 feet) in width, using a single reader and three overhead antennas, so that items can be detected as they move through the doorway without requiring multiple readers installed on pedestals that might disrupt the exit’s aesthetics and pedestrian traffic. The readers can interrogate tags even if they are partially shielded by a person’s body as he or she walks through the door.

The Multi Ranger combines the three solutions into one unit. If a store measures less than 200 square meters (2,150 square feet) in size, the solution could operate with a single reader. Typically, the device would be installed at a central overhead location, where it could then read tags in the back room, at the storefront and at the entrance. Antennas would be installed around the back room and storefront, with a low-cost, short-range RFID antenna and reader installed at the point of sale, as well as several bidirectional antennas deployed at the exit. With such an installation, a retailer could utilize the company’s Security Ranger software, which manages read data and prompts alerts. For the portal and wide-range functions, a third-party provider of software would be needed to manage the inventory-based data.

Sabesan Sithamparanathan

With the system in place, tags would be read as soon as they arrived in the back room. The solution would identify what had arrived and update inventory counts accordingly. The third-party software would then forward the collected data to the Multi Ranger management system, which can reside on a local server or be hosted in the cloud. As goods pass from the back room to the sales floor, the portal version of the system would identify that action and, if necessary, prompt a replenishment order.

If an individual purchased a product, the reader and antenna at the point of sale would detect that action, and the product tag could either be flagged as “sold” in the software, or be killed so that it would no longer transmit data when interrogated. The customer could then carry the tagged item through the store exit. If the product were not paid for, its tag ID would be captured and an alert would be triggered. The software can identify not only if a tag is moving out the door, but also if it is moving at all, so that stray reads of non-moving tagged items will not trigger alerts. If a store measures more than 200 square meters, Sithamparanathan says, it could opt to use two or more Space Rangers.

For retailers, Sithamparanathan explains, the ROI for this solution, when compared to that for a handheld RFID-based system, would be based on three factors. “The reduction in stock based on the inventory accuracy” is the first, he says. Since accuracy is greater in the back room and on the sales floor than it would be with a handheld reader, the store can reduce its need for redundant stock, he notes, “and it will offer a sales uplift due to the increase in on-shelf availability as well.”

Moreover, the system reduces the need for manual labor, which would be required if inventory were being read via a handheld reader. Thirdly, it offers loss-prevention functionality without requiring an additional EAS tag. The solution is targeted for retailers, though PervasID’s technology is also being used in the health-care and industrial markets.

“With the Multi Ranger solution,” Sithamparanathan says, “we modified the hardware and software to enable the three features in a single plug-and-play system.” The core reader is still the same as the original Space Ranger model, he notes, with upgrades to enable the interface between the antennas used for wide-array, portal and EAS reads. “RFID technology has been around for a long time, but the ROI has always been a challenge,” he states. “We think Multi Ranger offers the solution.”