Monthly Archives: August 2009

Coca-Cola Tests New Machine Powered by RFID Technology

Coca-Cola Tests New Machine Powered by RFID Technology

Coca-Cola has begun beta-testing an RFID-enabled drink dispenser in the US that the company claims will transform the soft drink dispensing industry.

The machine, known as Freestyle, uses proprietary PurePour Technology to provide more than 100 drink options in the same amount of space as the current eight-valve machine.

The new drink dispenser, four years in development, utilizes RFID technology to identify 30 or more cartridges, determine the quantity of flavoring inside each, and transmit data back to Coca-Cola indicating which drinks are being consumed, and when.

The system also uses RFID labels to ensure each cartridge is being installed properly, to guarantee it is not counterfeit, and to instantly stop the dispensing of certain drinks if Coca-Cola needs to recall the cartridges or their contents.

When developing the system’s technology, Coca-Cola considered several options that would help the company track its beverage cartridges. Each drink consists of a mix of several ingredients.

A Coke selection, for example, includes concentrated flavorings from a cartridge, a sweetener (such as corn syrup), water and carbonation. When an order is selected at the machine, the appropriate mix of all those elements is then injected into the customer’s cup.

The cartridges are the key to the large drink selection, however, and tracking those cartridges–ensuring they are not incorrectly placed or depleted–is thus essential to the machine’s success.

While the design engineers considered placing barcode labels on each cartridge, they found barcoding had several limitations.

First, it would have required the servicing staff to scan each label with a bar-code reader before installing it in the machine.
In addition, with bar codes, the machine would not have had the ability to read and write data regarding cartridge use in such a way that it could be stored with that particular cartridge and follow it, or be updated as needed.
With RFID, the company has the ability to leverage a write-back feature.

When a cartridge is manufactured and filled at the Coca-Cola plant, it is fitted with a passive RFID tag. An interrogator at the manufacturing site then writes data onto the tag, such as details about the drink in the cartridge, as well as the volume.

When a cartridge is installed in the Freestyle dispenser, the individual servicing that dispenser holds it up to the machine, and an RFID interrogator captures the unique ID number and other data encoded to the cartridge tag.

An RFID interrogator inside the machine captures the tag’s unique ID as the new cartridge is installed; if that cartridge is being placed in the wrong slot, the machine will fail to operate.

To select a drink, a consumer uses a touch screen on the front of the machine to indicate the desired beverage.

As well, the machine provides Coca-Cola with business analytics, as it has both cellular and cabled Ethernet network capability, thus enabling it to communicate with the beverage maker’s Freestyle SAP data-management system in Atlanta.

Coca-Cola also plans to employ the RFID tags for supply chain management. At the packaging site, RFID interrogators can verify that each box contains the correct beverage cartridges before it is shipped.
The machines are presently being tested in select quick-serve restaurants before a wider introduction currently planned for early next year.

Barcode shows and tracks mosquito threats

Barcode shows and tracks mosquito threats

Scientists have discovered how to use DNA “barcodes” to help prevent the spread of a disfiguring disease that threatens about one billion people around the world, say scientists.

Only certain mosquitoes spread lymphatic filariasis, otherwise known as elephantiasis, which affects people in more than 80 nations. The barcodes are short DNA snippets that will act to “fingerprint” the species that spreads the disease, allowing them to be tracked.

Barcode labels have been used for a while now for tracking shipping items, or inventory keeping, recently even the Pharmaceutical industry has now adopted their use, but never before has a barcode been used for DNA tracking of an insect.

The findings will be presented at a conference in London during next June.

“The scientific breakthrough of DNA barcoding…is shedding new light on lymphatic filariasis – a horrific and entirely preventable health scourge in developing nations,” said lead researcher Professor Daniel Boakye from the University of Ghana.

The disease is described as a leading cause of permanent disability. It is caused by microscopic worms, which are spread via Anopheles mosquitoes.

Living within a human’s blood, the larvae grow into adults, which mate and produce other larvae. Symptoms can appear years after infection, say researchers, permanently damaging lymph systems and kidneys. This results in the accumulation of fluid, causing swelling in arms, breasts and legs. 

A World Health Organization-sponsored program has been established with the aim of wiping out the threat from elephantiasis by 2020.

The partnership, which brings together pharmaceutical firms, NGOs and public health bodies, has delivered about two billion doses of the treatment.

The drugs work by reducing the amount of larvae living within the blood.

This means that when a mosquito bites an infected person, the concentration of larvae consumed by the insect is too low to be passed on to anyone that the mosquito may go on to bite.

 Researchers hope this will break the cycle of infection that this disease needs to survive. By examining these species’ DNA barcode, the researchers are able to identify which continue to act as vectors for the disease.

Where these creatures are found, the drug strategy can be complemented with insecticides.

“Beyond the immediate battle against this disease in West Africa,” Professor Boakye explained, “the value to human health of these important new tools will grow as the range and habitats of specific mosquito species shift.”

The scheme, supported by the US-based JRS Foundation, will be one of 17 projects that will be presented at a biodiversity conference in June.

The e-Biosphere 2009 Conference will be hosted by the Natural History Museum, London, and is co-sponsored by the Encyclopedia of Life and 12 other research institutions.

Bokode: The New Barcode

Bokode: The New Barcode

A new replacement for the old black and white striped barcode has been discovered by US researchers. Bokodes, as they are now known, can hold thousands of times more information in them than a traditional barcode label, and are easily read by even just cell phone cameras and of course handheld  other  barcode scanners.

The “Bokodes” currently consist of an 1-inch or less LED, covered with a tiny mask and a lens. Information is encoded in the light shining through the mask, which varies in brightness depending on which angle it is seen from.
The work will be shown off at Siggraph, a barcode conference in New Orleans next week.Bokodes
“We think that our technology will create a new way of tagging,” Dr Ankit Mohan, one of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers behind the work, told BBC News. Lab Camera Culture group.

The researchers believe the system has many advantages over conventional barcode labels. For example, they say, the tags are smaller, can be read from different angles and can be interrogated from far away by a standard mobile phone camera, or any barcode scanner.
“For traditional barcodes you need to be a foot away from it at most,” said Dr Mohan. The team has shown its barcode labels can be read from a distance of up to 12 ft, although they should theoretically work up to 60 ft.
“One way of thinking about it is a long-distance barcode.” Initially, said Dr Mohan, the Bokodes may be used in factories or industrial settings to keep track of objects.

However, the team also thinks they could be used in consumer applications, such as supermarkets, where products could be interrogated with a shopper’s mobile phone. For example, they could be used to encode nutritional information or pricing offers.

A similar system could be used in a library, said Dr Mohan.
“Let’s say you’re standing in a library with 20 shelves in front of you and thousands of books.”
“You could take a picture and you’d immediately know where the book you’re looking for is.”
And the team also believes the tags could find their way into places not normally associated with traditional barcodes.
For example, the system’s ability to read angular information could allow its use in motion-capture systems used to create videogames or films.
Dr Mohan said they could also be used to augment the information incorporated into Google Streetview, a service which allows users to browse a selection of pictures taken along city streets.
At the moment, the images for Streetview – accessible through Google Maps – are collected by trucks and cars fitted with several cameras.
“Shop and restaurant owners can put these Bokodes outside their stores and as the Google truck is driving down the street it will capture the information in that.”
For example, a restaurant could put menu information inside the tag.
When the data is uploaded to Google Maps, it would automatically be displayed next to the image of the restaurant, said Dr Mohan.

Currently, the tags are fairly expensive to produce – around $5 each. This is, in part, because the early prototypes require a lens and a powered LED.
However, the researchers believe the technology could be refined so that tags were reflective and require no power.
“We already have prototypes which are completely passive,” said Dr Mohan.
In this form, they could cost around 5 cents each, he added.
It is not the first time that companies or researchers have suggested replacements for, or enhancements to, barcode labels.

For example, in 2007 Microsoft launched its High Capacity Color Barcode, a series of colored geometric patterns in an attempt to create a new type of barcode.

And then there’s Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology – essentially tiny electronic tags that broadcast encoded information – were also touted as a barcode replacement.

Although they are now used in many applications, such as library books, passports and travel passes, you can even pay highway tolls using RFID tags, but they have yet to displace the familiar black and white stripes of the barcode.

Universal Postal Union to Use RFID for Better Tracking

Universal Postal Union to Use RFID for Better Tracking

Recently, the Universal Postal Union (UPU), which coordinates the international postal mail services, has decided to use RFID tag technology to track the speed of international deliveries. Although the project is still in preliminary testing phase, the UPU anticipates that the system will be used in 100 countries by 2012, and would provide a much faster and more efficient mail system.RFIDMAIL

And since the UPU isn’t a private delivery service such as FedEx, DHL, or UPS, they face a lot more difficulties. And because regular postal delivery is not operated by a single organization, consumers that buy stamps in one country have to get a piece of mail to another country through the mail system of the destination. In addition, the UPU sets quality-of-service standards for how long delivery should take, in addition to standard origination and termination fees for countries to settle the cost of delivering the mail to the proper destination.

Although packages have barcode labels that are scanned at every point along the way, traditional letters don’t, and despite what you may think about e-mail, there are still over 15 million letters that are sent across borders every day. The UPU has monitored letter delivery by sending special test letters and using independent analysts to record the departure and arrival of test letters, but postal workers at gateway offices, where letters pass through before their final destination, have to record the time themselves, leaving the process open to manipulation.

By using an RFID label based system, tags can easily be hidden inside envelopes, which can be read automatically as they pass through RFID portals throughout international gateway offices. The letters’ unique tracking numbers will also be collected, and then passed onto their prospective delivery reports. By doing this, the UPU will be able to implement a standard that allows each country to pay each other based on the quality of service their letters receive.

While RFID is currently used in some developed countries to monitor mail, systems today use semi-active tags that are expensive. A new global standard for RFID, called Gen2, allow UPU to implement passive-tag systems that cost only about 30 cents each and can be easily disposed of, making RFID accessible to UPU’s 191 country members.

When Barcode Meets Chicken

When Barcode Meets Chicken 

              A team of scientists working in Ireland has devised a method of identifying individual chickens by putting miniature barcode labels on their beaks and legs, and older hens by their combs. While working at the UCD Bioresources Research Center, the researchers achieved a 97 per cent accuracy rate in experiments on identifying individual bird parts with barcode labels.

The team which last year discovered they could identify individual sheep by their eyes and cattle by muzzle patterns, also believe they can identify laying hens by their comb profile.

Led by Prof Shane Ward, the group set out to find novel, accurate, tamper-proof and cost-effective systems to track and trace animals using among other things, biometric identification.

Biometric identification uses a physical characteristic that is unique to an individual such as a fingerprint, retinal or iris scanning and voice identification.
While laying hens do not have fingerprints, they discovered they have individual comb profiles, and these comb profiles can be paired with a barcode label to create a unique ID for every hen.

The researchers developed specific biometric algorithms to isolate the comb profiles using mathematical modeling techniques.
According to a research update from Relay, which circulates research for the food industry, this method delivered an 84 per cent accuracy rate.

The group opted for barcodes for chickens and experimented with two types of barcodes, a miniature linear barcode such as we see on products we buy in shops and a two-dimensional data matrix barcode.

“They succeeded in printing the barcodes on to both beaks and legs of the chickens.
“The barcodes were read a number of times using a barcode scanner to assess its accuracy, speed and readability,” the report says. They also fine tuned the best position for the barcodes and the optimal reading conditions for the scanner and the results obtained were promising with accuracy as high as 97 per cent.
“Although these experiments were carried out in the laboratory, real chicken body parts, sourced at poultry processing plants were used,” the research report continued.
“No animals were purposely culled for this research programme as per UCD ethical committee directives,” it says.
“In real life situations, ways will have to be found to imprint the barcodes on to live poultry whilst ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the bird,” it said.

BMW Uses RFID Tags at Plant

                                              BMW Uses RFID Tags at Plant

With all of the applications RFID tags have offered, yet another great use has been found by BMW automakers. BMW has recently adopted Ubisense’s Tool Assistance System (TAS) for use in its assembly plant in Regensburg, Germany.

The TAS is designed to identify and track in real time a vehicle as it is being assembled without the need to perform manual bar code scans. The system uses RFID tags to automatically identify the vehicle being assembled as well as detect the vehicle’s proximity to specific production equipment, saving time and money at the production stage.

  And because so many different models are built in succession at BMW assembly plants, workers need to constantly load and reload the correct programs for their automatic tools via bar code scans or by entering information into a terminal, both of which are error prone procedures. When a worker loads the wrong information for a particular car a costly manufacturing defect is created. However, with TAS, if a worker approaches a tagged vehicle with an automatic tool, the appropriate program will be automatically loaded into the tool, eliminating the risk of human error.

The Regensburg assembly plant uses nearly 120 tool systems to produce approximately 1,000 cars per day. Hopefully the TAS will spread, as automakers look to cut production costs in this global economic downtime.

Traveling With RFID Tags

 RFID Tags For Your Luggage

If you’ve ever flown on an international flight, you know that having baggage lost  is frustrating and it can be almost impossible to get it back. And  while technology exists to keep better track of our luggage, only 11% of airlines are now using it. This technology is RFID, or Radio Frequency Identification, and its uses are countless, but companies across a variety of different verticals are slow to adopt.

However, a few years have passed since RFID’s first deployment in 2005 at Hong Kong, Milan Malpensa, and Las Vegas McCarran airports. Those who have implemented it achieved a 97% luggage retrieval success rate, compared with 80% that use traditional methods. Statistics like these, provide a glimpse of yet another great technology that could make the stresses of traveling, well, less stressful.

Other industries have jumped on this train too; the Pharmaceutical industry has just begun using barcodes to keep track of patient prescriptions, and even some hospitals are using barcodes for patient records.

The food industry is now too also beginning to get a glimpse of the barcode industry, as foods a grocery stores will soon be encoded with a newer and larger barcode label that would enable consumers to know where their food came from, and more.

While a fair amount of airlines are working on RFID solutions to reduce the amount of luggage lost, many are hesitant to implement a solution. If airports choose to implement an RFID system across all of their carriers, they’ll need to decide on what type of RFID tag to use (active, passive, or semi-passive), what memory size should be there, what air protocol should be implemented, and whether or not to encrypt the information. To help facilitate these decisions, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is currently working on international standards for RFID baggage tags.

While it will presumably be  a few more years before consumers begin to see the fruits of their labor, the promise of RFID luggage tags brings hope to all of those who have lost, or fear losing their precious luggage on their travels.

Barcodes Could Trace Food Origins

Barcode Labels Could Trace Food Origins 

Where is the food on your dinner table grown? Up until recently, just a sticker saying “Made in U.S.A or Mexico” was good enough. Not anymore, or at least as soon as barcodes are a commonsight in grocery stores. With so much concern about fair trade, the environment, organic foods and general food safety, we can now track where the food you eat was truly grown through the food labels.

Although food prices are still the main factor in determining what food people buy, in more recent years there has been a fast growing concern about where the food source is from. Partly due likely to a series of food scandals, such as Salmonella, E.Coli  and more have recently tainted our food markets. The public know wants to know where the food products come from, how they are made and the chemicals contained in them.Food Labels with Tracking

As of now, most manufacturers or food processors already use RFID chips to track their products shipping around the globe, but now with the help of cheap cellphone technology and wireless internet, we can collect date from the most remote of locations.

In remote regions where farmers don’t have access to computers, they can use cellphones to record onto FoodReg’s online database the time and place the crop was harvested. Systems like this should also make it easy to calculate the distance that goods travel to reach stores, allowing consumers to estimate the greenhouse gas emissions racked up by the transport of their food. “The calculation of food miles and carbon footprint could be the killer application for traceability,” says Heiner Lehr of FoodReg. “The technology is there. If a big retailer puts itself behind this, it could happen very fast.”

Other efforts aim to provide independent information about food in stores. Simon Kelly of the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, UK, and colleagues are using isotope analysis of chicken meat to check where and how the birds were farmed. The ratio of carbon isotopes in the meat shows how much corn the birds were fed relative to other grains, while hydrogen isotopes reveal the amount of rainfall where they were raised. By combining results from these and other isotopes the researchers can so far reliably tell European chickens apart from those raised in Asia or South America, and distinguish between 21 test sites in Europe with 85 per cent accuracy.