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Kinect Gives RFID Another Pair of Eyes

Complementary technologies could boost confidence in RFID visibility solutions.
By Mark Roberti
Feb 19, 2013—Increasingly, apparel retailers are adopting radio frequency identification technology, which provides visibility into the location of movable assets, to monitor items moving from the back room to the sales floor and on store shelves. Studies show RFID improves inventory accuracy and is less labor-intensive than tracking items manually with bar codes. Yet, some retailers are reluctant to use RFID because it is automatic. They often ask, "If I read items on a shelf, how do I know I got everything?" With bar codes, retailers feel, "If I scan it, I see it."

The University of Arkansas' RFID Research Center may have the solution: combining RFID with vision technology. In a demonstration set up in the center's lab, researchers used Kinect—the Webcam-like device that allows players to interact with Xbox 360 games—to capture images of items, while reading tags with an ultrahigh-frequency reader under the table. The system could enable retailers to see if items are actually where RFID says they are. Having two sources of data-capture information will give retailers and other end users confidence that RFID systems are accurate, says Justin Patton, the center's director.

Researchers at the RFID Research Center demonstrate how an RFID reader (under the table) and a Kinect camera can track retail items. From left: Harry Scott (assistant), Senthilkumar CP (technical director) and Justin Patton (director).

"Harry Scott, a student working in the lab, saw us identifying items with RFID and said he could do that with a Kinect device," Patton says. To demonstrate how it would work, Scott put a soda can and several other items on a table. The Kinect camera scanned the items and matched their characteristics to those of items stored in a database, to determine what the items were (currently, it works with roughly 10 items).

"The demo allows the user to define an area of interest, and then identify items in it by analyzing their size, shape and color," Patton says. The researchers plan to add optical character recognition for even greater accuracy. "You can now get a camera that can deliver pretty high-quality video and infrared range and create a point cloud of a 3-D environment for $100 or so," Scott adds.
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