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RFID for Wine Aficionados

A California startup has developed WineM, an RFID-enabled wine rack that lets aficionados and sommeliers manage their collection visually.
By Beth Bacheldor
Dec 11, 2007— You've built a wine cellar and stocked it with bottles of your favorite reds and whites. Now how do you find the 2005 Australian merlot in your collection, and is it the right wine to serve with beef stew, or should you choose a 2004 French Bordeaux?

ThingM, a California startup specializing in ubiquitous computing, says it has solved the problem of searching paper logs or spreadsheets for information about wines and how they are organized. The company developed WineM, an RFID-enabled wine rack that lets aficionados and sommeliers manage their collection visually.

Each cell, or slot, in the wine rack is equipped with an RFID antenna; a specially designed RFID interrogator can read six cells. Each cell is also fitted with four RGB LEDs that can display a broad range of colors. Before a new wine is stored on the rack, a 125-KHz passive, read-only tag from Trossen Robotics is affixed to the bottom of the bottle. When a bottle is placed into a cell, the tag is read and the unique ID number is uploaded into the WineM software and database. The system also includes a Nokia touch screen to access the software. Search for, say—California chardonnay, Sonoma, 2005, $30—and all the cells holding bottles that meet that description will light up.

The WineM database can hold information such as vineyard, year, rating, price and what foods go best with what wines. For now, that information has to be entered manually. But the WineM software can be connected via Wi-Fi to the Internet, and ThingM is working with several wine software manufacturers to enable users to download information from online wine databases. ThingM also plans to package the wine rack with a bar-code scanner, so the UPC on the bottle can be associated with its unique ID—and with the UPC data in online wine databases.

ThingM's RFID-enabled wine rack may be the first on the market, but expect to see others. In fact, Scottsdale, Ariz., startup Wine Track is developing a secure proprietary database of premium fine wines and an RFID-enabled wine cellar. The RFID system will link individually tagged bottles to the information housed within the wine database. Wine Track, which will host the database, plans to sell its RFID system to restaurateurs, retailers and consumers.

ThingM expects to start taking orders in March 2008, says Mike Kuniavsky, who, with Tod Kurt, developed WineM. Pricing has not yet been set.
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