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RFID on Tap

A technology company has developed a unique RFID solution that measures how much alcohol bartenders have poured, which could boost a bar's liquidity.
By Mark Roberti
Feb 01, 2006—Bartenders giving away free drinks. Employees dipping into the till. It's enough to drive some bar owners to drink. Now, a company called Nuvo Technologies has developed a high-tech spout with an active RFID transmitter and sensor that measures how much liquid is poured from each bottle.

Nuvo's BarVision system includes wireless spouts, radio receivers and software that runs on a Palm personal digital assistant. Each spout has a unique serial number that's associated in the BarVision software with a particular bottle—say, Grey Goose Vodka. When a bartender pours a drink, a tilt sensor in the spout records the bottle's angle and the amount of time it was inverted.

The BarVision system lets restaurant and bar owners track their inventory and control costs.
That information is stored in a memory chip on a printed circuit board in the pour spout. The active RFID transmitter in the spout sends the data to a receiver after each pour, or when the spout is removed from the bottle. (The battery in the spout should last around three years, or 2,000 pours.) A bar manager can download the data from the receiver to a PDA via a serial cable. Sophisticated software calculates the amount of liquid poured, based on the time, angle and type of liquor.

The RFID-enabled spout doesn't prevent the bartender from pouring too much alcohol into a drink; it simply records the amount poured. But the bar owner can set up the software to indicate a range of how much alcohol should be poured for each type of liquor. The software then provides reports of all pours outside that range, which enables the owner or manager to address problems.

"The market we're going after is a free-pour environment," says Nuvo President Chris Morrison, referring to the millions of bars globally that allow bartenders, instead of machines, to dispense the alcohol. "This enables a manager to control costs and to control the quality of the products served."

The cost of the system depends on the number of bottles and bar areas. But a typical corner bar in the United States might spend $5,000 to $6,000 for a system with one PDA and one receiver. (Bigger bars can get more receivers or antenna extensions that provide more coverage.) Nuvo estimates that the BarVision system will help bar owners recover about half a drink for each bottle poured. Bars can expect to get a return on investment after just six months.

The system has been deployed in eight test sites around the United States to prove the concept. Morrison says the technology has worked well in the field. Nuvo is ramping up its manufacturing capability and plans to begin marketing the system to bar and restaurant chains this quarter—which means bar owners will soon be able to relax, knowing they can track their inventory down to virtually the last drop.
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