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RFID: the real thing

08/31/09 | John R. Johnson | email

Just how ubiquitous is RFID becoming? Consider that the technology now helps to manage the cradle-to-grave distribution process for Coca-Cola. Last week the soft drink giant announced that RFID technology is being rolled out in its new state-of-the-art vending machines at restaurants to monitor, track and maintain dispenser operations, as well as to provide real-time business analytics about product consumption and preferences.

The technology is also proving ever useful in the trash hauling and recycling industry, where billions of empty soda cans are disposed of each year. Using RFID to track curbside trash pickups and recycling habits is becoming commonplace around the world, with RFID-enabled trash bins rolled out recently in Toronto and Las Vegas.

Coca-Cola is tight-lipped about the use of RFID in its new Freestyle™ beverage dispensing system. More than four years in planning, the dispensing platform’s design utilizes Impinj Monza™ tag chips and Indy™ reader chips, which provide the core RFID capability of the system and allow far more flavors to be dispensed from a typical vending machine.

Impinj CEO Bill Colleran says that the dispenser provides value to the consumer by offering a wider range of beverage choices, and benefits Coca-Cola by significantly improving operational efficiency and imparting useful consumer research. He’d love to say more, but Impinj isn’t allowed to elaborate because of the high competitive edge Coca-Cola places on RFID.

When it comes to recycling products like soda cans, the push is on in North America to track recyclables. It’s a trend that is spreading around the world, as many parts of Australia are mandating that recycling contractors tag bins with RFID tags so that every bin can be recorded as it is emptied. That way, trash haulers can provide an audit trail and charge only for those bins that have been emptied. To enable this, the bin’s serial number and address need to be accurately paired with its unique RFID tag at the time the bin is delivered.

Mastec, an Australian manufacturer of trash and recycling bins, relies on a bin identification solution provided by Datanet, a South Australian based solutions provider. Every bin is read by a Padl-R HF RFID reader supplied by Tracient Technologies as the bin is delivered to the residential address. The tag ID is sent via Bluetooth to a Motorola MC70 handheld terminal which has the Datanet bin identification solution running on it. The information is then sent back to Mastec’s central database and is matched up with the bin’s serial number and address.

Neil Edmond, Tracient Technology’s sales and marketing manager, says his firm already has several prospects in North America looking to use the Padl-R readers for the same purpose. “Curbside recycling is a hot topic right now,” he says.

No hotter than in Toronto, where city officials recently rolled out 750,000 RFID-enabled trash and recycling bins. However, the program has stalled as most trash haulers servicing the city do not have the capability to read the RFID tags to record data about recycling habits.

However, trash and RFID is the real thing in Las Vegas, where about 50,000 RFID-tagged trash cans and recycling bins are being used in several communities. Tim Smith, chief operating officer at Avetrium, a Toronto-based systems integrator, says the project has advanced beyond the pilot stage, and that data about recycling habits is already being collected. Smith says that several more communities in Las Vegas are considering pilots, as well as many others throughout the U.S. Residents receive quarterly statements on how much material they recycle, how much waste they pulled out of landfills as a result, and are provided with coupons for area stores based on individual recycling levels.

“The idea of RFID is very real for the waste management industry,” says Smith. “There is a ton of activity. We have at least four more communities slated for pilots this quarter all over North America, and all of these could turn into very large install bases moving forward.”

In addition to the main goal of convincing more U.S. residents to recycle and lessen the number of materials destined for landfills, RFID is proving a value add to trash haulers. Many are using the technology, combined with GPS systems, to manage fleets more efficiently. Trash haulers are able to design pickup routes more efficiently, and in some cases use the data collected from RFID to convince communities that fewer trash runs are required. RFID can also help with preventative maintenance for truck fleets.

In the future, RFID will likely help communities and trash haulers move to pay-per-use systems, where RFID tracks the weight of garbage disposed of, and consumers are charged accordingly.

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