Barcode, radio frequency identification (RFID) and related systems specialist Harmonic Group received its first corporate order, in May, for asset protection, using its three-dimensional (3D) Intelligent Tracking and Control System (ITCS) technology, from a large local cell phone retailer, says Harmonic Group MD Barry Baetu.
Asset management is usually employed by large companies, such as banks and govern- ment organisations that want to control the movement of valuables such as laptops and iPhones.
“First there were barcodes, then came RFID, which are barcodes on the move, and now there is ITCS, which is ultrasmart radio-frequency technology that doesn’t only identify a tagged item, but also tells you exactly where the item is and where it is moving to in 3D real time,” says Baetu.
ITCS technology provides five times the distance of normal passive ultrahigh frequency readers and the advantage of real-time location within 1 m3.
Fewer cables and wiring are required, when compared with a network of RFID readers to cover the same area, which simplifies the installation process and the infra- structure.
The ITCS technology tracks the speed and direction of tag movements and feeds the data back to an intelligent application that analyses the changing data and prompts the system to take further action.
Baetu adds that ITCS is cost effective, as the technology consists of a single unit mounted on the ceiling or wall of a warehouse or retail store. It can do the work of multiple conventional RFID reader systems and offers a lower capital cost than conventional portal readers.
“There is potential to use the technology in retail, logistics, electronic article surveillance (EAS), inventory and people-tracking applications,” he notes.
Trolley tracking is one of the potential applications of the technology.
It links people’s routes, from where they are in the vicinity of supermarkets to what they buy. It tracks how fast they are going and how many times they walk up and down the aisles, looking for a product.
ITCS can gather 40 000 to 50 000 records of information an hour across trolleys or baskets in a supermarket, he notes.
Harmonic Group states that the information gathered is invaluable to supermarkets and suppliers, as it enables them to determine whether products are being placed correctly in the store and how to increase sales by simplifying its layout.
Baetu reveals that Harmonic Group is negotiating with a South African supermarket chain which wants to roll-out the technology to 50 stores within the next year.
Electronic Article Surveillance
Most retail clothing stores use EAS as a way to prevent theft. The disadvantage, however, is the huge security barriers that block the exits and the fact that retailers cannot tell what is being stolen when an alarm sounds.
ITCS can simplify security in retail outlets, as products in the stores can be tracked and traced at all times. When an alarm sounds, the system will show exactly what is being taken out of the store and whether or not the product has been paid for, he explains.
The technology can also determine if a product is likely to be stolen by tracking its route in the store and it can inform workers how much of each product is available on the shelves and which products are low in stock.
Baetu states that ITCS can also be used in the mining industry to trace workers and assets.
“Workers can be traced to enhance safety. If an explosion or roof cave-in should occur in an underground mine, the ITCS system will be able to tell whether all the employees have left the mine,” he explains.
Equipment damage is another concern at mines. ITCS technology can track equipment to see who used it last or where it was moved to.
The company states that it is working on developing a smaller and lower-cost ITCS unit that offers the same functionality.
“Since modern technology is becoming smaller, we need to ensure that the technology is efficient and practical when used for asset-management of cell phones or laptops.
“ITCS offers a completely different way of thinking about the use of passive RFID tags and offers the ability to identify, locate and track tagged items automatically. “This opens the way for a myriad of applications in various environments,” says Baetu.