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The End of the Bar Code 468

Posted by Hemos
from the coming-soon-to-everything-near-you dept.
valdean writes "The University of Wisconsin RFID Lab, principally funded by a dozen Wal-mart suppliers including 3M, Kraft Foods, and S.C. Johnson & Son, believes that RFID could spell the end of the ubiquitous bar code. The big draw? Speeding up supply-chain management. Wal-mart's warehouse conveyor belts presently move products at 600 feet per minute... but they want to be faster. And better informed."
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The End of the Bar Code

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  • by It doesn't come easy (695416) * on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:30AM (#13426698) Journal
    Zoom. That's 10 feet per second. Reminds me of the I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel were newly employed at a candy factory with them packing boxes while trying to keep pace with the machine producing chocolate candies.

    Man, better not blink if you work in a Wal-Mart warehouse...
    • by Bnderan (801928) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:34AM (#13426721)
      600 feet per minute ought to be enough for anybody.
    • That's 6.8 miles per an hour.....

      So this thing tops out at a faster speed than my friend's Geo Metro? Wow....

      This kind of makes me wonder how fast the RIFD-enabled belts at the Wal-Mart warehouses are gonna be.

    • by mbelly (827938) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:39AM (#13426764)
      But the checkouts will be just as slow...
      • I wish you could mod +1 True
      • by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Monday August 29, 2005 @10:28AM (#13427185) Homepage Journal
        Not after we RFID the customers! Imagine the peoplemover at the airport, cranked up to 10 feet per second.
      • Actually... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Otto (17870) on Monday August 29, 2005 @10:50AM (#13427369) Homepage Journal
        With RFID, there is the possibly of doing entire cart checkouts. Roll the cart into the scanning area, it gets all the RFID info, gives a total and you pay for your items. No need to remove everything from the cart.

        Of course, this means that you likely want to bag the items as you shop instead of afterwards.
    • by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Monday August 29, 2005 @10:04AM (#13426955) Homepage Journal
      Siemens Dematic was working on a conveyor belt so fast that the air resistance was lifting the parts, and I'm certain it was faster than this.
    • SCM experence (Score:2, Interesting)

      man... I used to work at SCM plant that dealt with Ontario Canada, yes that is correct, one location handled every Wal-Mart in Ontario. That place was ridiculously fast, thousands of boxes were running on Km's and Km's track in the ceiling. It was quite the experience just touring around checking out how boxes were tracked with their barcodes and then kicked off onto correct ramps to corresponding waiting trucks for a specific location. Now they intend to make it even more efficient and faster... wow..
      • Re:SCM experence (Score:3, Insightful)

        by shmlco (594907)
        "Walk through a sensor and swipe my credit card and then off to the car in seconds..."

        That sounds good, until you realize that all those groceries you just scanned still need to be taken out of the cart and bagged. Or were you just going to pile all of those canned goods onto the back seat? Should make unloading fun...

  • by coinreturn (617535) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:33AM (#13426713)
    I like to know if the bar serves alcohol or just wine and beer, whether the waitresses are topless or merely scantily clad, if there's a cover charge (and how much), if there's a band or a lame jukbox, and finally if they have pool tables.

    Oh, you mean those thingies with lines? Nevermind.
  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:33AM (#13426714) Homepage
    6.81818... miles per hour. That's a brisk walk.
  • I know... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by trevordactyl (908770) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:33AM (#13426715)
    Things like this are fun to experiment with, and in some applications they're very useful and make people's lives better. But what do we really have to gain by developing RFID in our personal lives? So we don't have to "deal with" the cashiers at a store? We're eliminating the need for human contact .

    "... but they want to be faster
    " Why do they want to be faster? So they can continue to work a 40-hour week and rush home to...to what? The internet?
    Sorry, but my life is too fast-paced as it is, the last thing I need is another thing to expedite my trip through life.
    • I disagree. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Lellor (910974)

      So we don't have to "deal with" the cashiers at a store? We're eliminating the need for human contact .

      I'm sure they would still have people working at the store in some capacity, so I think that particular fear is unfounded :)

      Why do they want to be faster? So they can continue to work a 40-hour week and rush home to...to what? The internet?

      Personally, I would be glad if these systems were introduced and saved time at stores. To me, spending time at home with my girlfriend and horses is more impo

      • by Harald Paulsen (621759) on Monday August 29, 2005 @10:03AM (#13426948) Homepage
        Personally, I would be glad if these systems were introduced and saved time at stores. To me, spending time at home with my girlfriend and horses is more important than standing in a qeue waiting for a cashier to process everyone's purchases
        Dude, you need help.
      • We've already virtually eliminated that need. Around here, most grocery stores and Wal-Mart have self-checkout. It means exactly what it sounds like --you scan and bag your own items, then you pay with any method of payment that the store takes. No muss, no fuss, and people are still a bit afraid of them (or lazy, or deciding to support minimum-wage jobs by going through a manned checkout lane) so they're faster if you're even somewhat competent.

        Sometimes there is one person staffing ALL the checkout lan
    • Re:I know... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NardofDoom (821951) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:54AM (#13426876)
      Read Robotic Nation [marshallbrain.com]. It's a collection of short stories about how artificial intelligence could either produce a utopia where everyone could be free from the drudgery of labor, or one where a small number of rich people prosper while hundreds of millions are left unemployed.

      Technology isn't the cause of human strife or prosperity; humans and how they use it are.

      Wal*Mart speeding up their lines is a move to provide more production per unit investment. It's motivated by profit, plain and simple. (Not that it's a bad thing.) Now, if they passed these benefits along to the public, either through paying their employees more or hiring more people, that would be a good thing. The greatest benefit for the most people. If they used it to eliminate workers and pay their shareholders and executives more, that would be a bad thing, since it benefits the fewest number of people.

      I don't want to get into a debate about trickle-down economics. I'm just trying to make the point that this isn't a good or bad thing. What we make of it is how we'll be judged by history.

      • Re:I know... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TigerTale (414169)
        Now, if they passed these benefits along to the public, either through paying their employees more or hiring more people, that would be a good thing.



        Or by lowering prices, which is exactly what they will do, and which is the course of action that benefits the most people.

      • Re:I know... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bender0x7D1 (536254)
        You might also read the Dune series by Frank Herbert or, more specifically, the prequels starting with The Butlerian Jihad [barnesandnoble.com]

        Sure, it would be a Utopia until someone decides to use the A.I. or robots/machines in general to take over. If the computer running the waste recycler was 0wn3d what would you do? What about the one tracking food distribution? How long could we go without them before wide-spread panic and chaos?

        I'll stick with less intelligent, specialized systems, thank you. I'm not even happy wit
      • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Monday August 29, 2005 @02:09PM (#13428986)
        "Now, if they passed these benefits along to the public, either through paying their employees more or hiring more people, that would be a good thing."

        What about charging less to their customers? That's what they do now.

        Are you saying they should hire more employees and then give them meaningless, unproductive jobs. That's stupid. If you're saying they should expand their operations (like by offering a wider array of services) that would make sense, they're also doing that. How about if they pay their employees more per hour, but then work them for fewer hours?

        "If they used it to eliminate workers and pay their shareholders and executives more, that would be a bad thing, since it benefits the fewest number of people."

        That is not true, it depends how many shareholders and how many employees there are. I think I wal-mart's case, many of the employees are shareholders, but they also have a lot of shareholders who are not employees. By the way, executives are workers and their positions are made irrelevant and eliminated by technology just the same as any other employee.

        Yours is a typical anti-industrialist argument. Change is bad because it eliminates work. But that assumes that people want to work in the first place. If people wanted to operate a check-out line, you wouldn't have to pay them to do it. So, no it's not bad to get rid of these kind of shitty, meaningless jobs that no one wants.
      • Re:I know... (Score:3, Insightful)

        Wal*Mart speeding up their lines is a move to provide more production per unit investment. It's motivated by profit, plain and simple. (Not that it's a bad thing.)

        I know someone that was involved in talking to Wal*Mart about RFID early on and when they mentioned that Wal*Mart could increase their profits the executives looked at him like he had three heads. Wal*Mart has a very strong corporate culture that always seeks to lower prices at the expense of almost everything else. All that heavy handed press
    • ATM Much (Score:4, Insightful)

      by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Monday August 29, 2005 @10:00AM (#13426921)
      So we don't have to "deal with" the cashiers at a store? We're eliminating the need for human contact .

      So... do you use ATM machines, or visit the delightfully human tellers every time you wish to deposit or withdraw cash?

      I remember when ATM cards were introduced. There were a lot of people then, just like you, wailing and gnashing teeth over how we were de-humanizing our lives, how people were being replaced by robots, etc. etc. We marveled and whispered every time one of dem new-fangled ATM machines popped up on a nearby street corner. Coupla generations later and, what? We wonder how we ever got through life without cash-on-demand boxes.

      Lines -- queues -- are inherently bad. Nobody wants to be on a line. It's got nothing to do with human interaction (If any of your meaningful human interaction occurs on a cashier's line you need to be placed on your local constabulary's 'Watch List.') Anything that eliminates or reduces lines is good.
    • So we don't have to "deal with" the cashiers at a store? We're eliminating the need for human contact.

      Your experience may've been different... but my principal cashier-related human contact at a Wal-Mart has usually comprised long-term relationships with the other zombies trapped in the checkout queue... If RFID means Really Fast Into Departure, bring it on.

    • "So we don't have to "deal with" the cashiers at a store? We're eliminating the need for human contact ."

      I remember people using this argument against ATMs, that not having to make polite smalltalk with the teller at the bank would turn us all into antisocial hermits.

      I don't think that the strangers we are forced to interact with and pretend to like count as 'real human interaction'. It's the people that you live, work, and socialize with everyday -- your family, co-workers and friends. Taking away petty i

    • Re:I know... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bmeteor (167631)
      As a former retail manager, I think I can lend some insight into this.

      Remember, your retail experience is not necessarily defined by the everyday experience, but the worst case scenario. Think Christmas time. People will leave, not shop, put off shopping if there is a line, it's called line abandonment. During the shopping season, this happens all the time, I've done it. RFID makes it easier, because someone bags your parcels, and then you pay. It cuts out cashier error.

      It doesn't necessarily eliminate
    • Re:I know... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Red Flayer (890720)
      So we don't have to "deal with" the cashiers at a store?

      The speed they talk about in the article is for warehousing, shipping, and distribution.

      Cashiers will still be needed at the store, as some of the other responders to your post have mentioned.

      Two of the reasons I didn't see mentioned:

      Loss prevention.

      Image.

      Without face-to-face contact, shoppers are much more likely to try to "pull a fast one." It's much more cost-effective to prevent theft than it is to prosecute it, so even RFID scanners
    • Re:I know... (Score:3, Insightful)


      What walmart actually wants to do with this is have ownership of the store product remain with the manufacturer until the product is purchased by the consumer. Walmart is always working to minimize their inventory risks and this would be the ultimate reduction in that risk - the situation where Walmart owns no inventory. In order to strongarm manufacturers into accepting this scenario, Walmart must first prove that they can track the movement of inventory in and out of the store with absolute reliability
  • Dupe! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by schtum (166052) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:34AM (#13426723)
    I don't know about the article, but that's the same summary that's accompanied every RFID story for the past 3 years.
  • by robbkidd (154298) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:35AM (#13426730)
    To our Slashdot Overlords:

    Can we get a "The End of ..." section?
  • by Virtex (2914) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:36AM (#13426738) Homepage
    The End of the Bar Code

    Yep, the bar code is dead. Right after BSD dies. Should be any day now.
  • Great News (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DrSkwid (118965) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:36AM (#13426740) Homepage Journal
    I hope that means someone will release a low cost tcp/ip enabled RFID reader, suitable for home/small business use.

    Knowing what's in one's cupboards might be useful. Be great if the best before date is encoded as part of the sequence.

  • too much! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuelvolts (852701) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:36AM (#13426744)
    "And better informed."

    I went to apply for a walmart credit card whan I was 18 - they already had my information and SSN - I was shocked.

    They know too much already!
  • by KiloByte (825081) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:37AM (#13426750)
    In other news, the shares of tinfoil makers have increased.

    Speaking of which, can you read the price tag on my new hat?
  • N.O. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Safety Cap (253500) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:37AM (#13426753) Homepage Journal
    It is far, far easier to create a bar code than an RFID tag.

    For example, if I'm writing a registration program, it is trivially easy to create a bar code on the registrant's invoice that they then print and bring to the event. Until that magical RFID printer is developed and marketed, I don't see Bar Codes going away.

    Also, that bar code on all those pieces of snail mail ("postnet") will not be replaced any time soon.

    • Difference is that the RFID can be read by machine from any angle and in most cases from relatively far away without help from a human. For some things RFID can be totally automated, unlike barcoding. Both have their place.
    • Re:N.O. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hackstraw (262471) *
      It is far, far easier to create a bar code than an RFID tag.

      Albeit, its been 5 years since I've worked with RFID tags, but then you simply bought them, and they already were "created", which meant that they had a unique number embedded in them.

      RFID tags are pretty cool. Advantages: no need for direct line of sight, data can be uploaded to them, they are passive and require no internal energy source. Disadvantages: cost, potential privacy issues, reliability.

      I don't see RFID tags entirely replacing bar co
      • Re:N.O. (Score:2, Informative)

        by Silicon Jedi (878120)
        then the cashier may be required to by the company they work for.
      • Re:N.O. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by InfiniteWisdom (530090) on Monday August 29, 2005 @11:33AM (#13427747) Homepage
        If the cashier scans each identical item...


        Correct. If the cashier scans each itentical item, they're probably smart. Here's the "effort saving" alternative:

        1. Look for identical items in the pile
        2. Make sure they really are identical and don't have subtle differences (eg. different flavors)
        3. Count them accurately
        4. Can one item n times being certain that there is a beep after every scan
        5. Move the n items out being certain not to accidentally sweep them in front of the scanner

        Oh yes. It's quite clear what method a smart person would use
        • Re:N.O. (Score:3, Interesting)

          by ultramk (470198)
          Apparently you don't watch closely.

          It's more like:

          1. look for identical items in the pile.
          2. count them accurately (if they can't count cans of cat food, wtf are they doing with a cash drawer?)
          3. scan one item from the pile and enter the quantity with the keypad
          4. move the stack over to be bagged.

          Tell you what, you use your way, I'll use mine, we'll see who is faster? Pay attention next time you buy 6 cases of Jolt at Costco...

          m-
    • FYI: PHP can create barcodes [ashberg.de]. I can see that being used to create printable coupons based on information in a database or something.
  • Commercial (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jestrzcap (46989) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:38AM (#13426760)
    Did anyone else see that commercial a while back that had this guy in a long trenchcoat walking through a supermarket, stuffing things into his coat. He take a whole bunch of stuff and sticks in inside his coat and then walks out, and as he walking out a employee stops him and hands him his receipt for all the stuff he just bought.
    • That will never become reality, shoplifters are already using foil-lined bags and pockets to get high-ticket items with radio tags out of the store.
    • Re:Commercial (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Asprin (545477)

      That commercial **really** creeps out my wife. She doesn't shop at Wal-Mart anymore because of it. (Because WM is pushing the hardest for RFID in consumer packaging.)
      • With good reason. Catching shoplifters will become much harder, as they will probably find away to simply *disable* the RFID tag (some kind of emp? Just a thought) rather than having to go through the tell-tale signs of inconspicuously grabbing and carrying the product out without looking guilty.

        But hey, a few more cents of profit on the dollar is worth billions more in law enforcement,right?
  • by madprof (4723) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:39AM (#13426766)
    In the UK the supermarket giant Sainsbury had problems with their stock in warehouses after barcode scanning software turned out to be less than reliable. Cages of goods were going into their warehouses and literally getting lost as no one knew they were there. Lots of fresh produce was going to waste and shelves were suspiciously empty as a result.
    And meanwhile their main rival Tesco were busy building up a large market lead...
  • biased much? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:39AM (#13426767)

    The University of Wisconsin RFID Lab, principally funded by a dozen Wal-mart suppliers including 3M, Kraft Foods, and S.C. Johnson & Son, believes that RFID could spell the end of the ubiquitous bar code.


    An RFID lab funded by huge companies thinks RFID will do away with barcode? No shit!

    A basic printer and barcode scanner can still be had for under $500. You can print as many barcodes as you want - your only limits are paper and toner.

    An RFID reader (the kind you would need for warehousing applications) will cost several thousand dollars, and each RFID chip will cost a dollar at the very least. Then, if you want active chips (so you don't have to be within feet of the item), you'll have to pay $20-ish on volume.
  • Mixed up Goods (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Flamesplash (469287) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:44AM (#13426801) Homepage Journal
    Bar codes supply other niceties, like when shelves get stocked a little off from the labels on the shelf, or when something gets put back by a consumer, or very similar items are right next to each other. With all of these you can match the bar code up with the code on the label. Hopefully they'll keep something similar around if not used for determining the actual prices.
  • by pieterh (196118) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:44AM (#13426802) Homepage
    Bar codes were invented [about.com] in 1952 but only became really widely used in the last ten years, thanks to ink jet printers and laser scanning at many checkouts. It's going to take RFIDs decades to replace bar codes and probably it won't happen until a RFID chip can be literally micro-printed onto a paper receipt, onto an egg, or onto a newspaper.
    • by It doesn't come easy (695416) * on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:55AM (#13426884) Journal
      The fact it took barcodes 50 years to be ubiquitous doesn't mean that it will take 50 years for RFID to be ubiquitous too. In fact, if you estimate the time it will take RFID to be adopted based on barcode history, RFID usage will be universal in 10 years. Why? Because during the 20th century (1901-2000) mankind made 20 years progress in terms of the rate of progress for the year 2000. So on average, 50 years of progress in the 20th century leading to the adoption of the barcode will equate to 10 years today.
  • by HEbGb (6544) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:45AM (#13426807)
    There is very little value-added by RFID on individual product packages, considering the costs involved. A bar-code is essentially free, while they're going to be hard-pressed to make a RFID tag under $0.10. So they might be useful for large palettes and such, there's just no clear advantage over a regular barcode.

    And what's this nonsense about barcodes and speed concerns? 600ft/minute is nothing. Standard barcode readers can easily do 700 scans/sec. [keyence.com]. So these scanners could handle speeds of 3500 ft/minute.
  • by ap0 (587424) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:47AM (#13426816)
    This technology isn't going to replace barcodes. Many companies (like UPS or FedEx) would have a difficult time adapting their systems because of the large amounts of accidental "scanning" of RFID tags. If companies can use it effectively, that's great, but for many companies, barcodes are a more ideal solution.
  • With RFID... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Iphtashu Fitz (263795) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:49AM (#13426827)
    How would they attach tags to things like plastic bags (frozen/fresh veggies) individual pieces of produce (they're now starting to use lasers to etch barcodes onto the skin of fruits), and other small or unusually shaped items? Barcodes can be put on almost anything no matter what the shape or size. Can the same be done with RFID tags?

    And what about boxes that have multiple barcodes? Cell phones are one example - they have serial numbers, ESN's, etc. that all need to be scanned at different times for different reasons. How do you do this with RFID? I suppose you could say that the RFID that begins with one prefix is a serial number, with another prefix is an ESN, etc. but then you put a lot more in the way of constraints on the manufactureres, and I doubt they'd like that.
    • Re:With RFID... (Score:5, Informative)

      by dedioste (797427) on Monday August 29, 2005 @10:17AM (#13427065) Homepage
      How would they attach tags to things like plastic bags (frozen/fresh veggies) individual pieces of produce (they're now starting to use lasers to etch barcodes onto the skin of fruits), and other small or unusually shaped items? Barcodes can be put on almost anything no matter what the shape or size. Can the same be done with RFID tags?
      No, and it won't. Because that's not the target, I think. Cheap items, small pieces will still carry the barcode, at least in the next years. RFID will take over in warehouses (useful in tracking a pallet of bags) and in high added value objects (think about a sweater that interacts with your washing machine).
      And what about boxes that have multiple barcodes?
      The RFID broadcasts a signal, is up to the operator (or the receiver) to decode the signal and pick the important part of the message.
      I know some RFID implementations in the food supply. Each different operator needs differen type of informations (the producer needs warehouse informations, the distributor needs the destination address, the customer needs expiry date and storage conditions). All these info can be stored on a single RFID. Each element of the chain can catch the signal and get his info.
  • by WormholeFiend (674934) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:51AM (#13426846)
    who got a barcode tattoo because they thought it would look cool and anti-corporate are gonna be pissed off!
  • by Red Flayer (890720) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:52AM (#13426854) Journal
    RFID can be advantageous to suuply-chain and distribution management, but there are still several problems that need to be addressed before the bar code will die out.

    Standards -- For one thing, there are many different standards (the US & Europe, for example, use different frequencies). Increased globalization of supply chains will make this a royal PITA, and probably not cost-effective, for many retailers.

    RFID signals are easily blocked -- often accidentally. Soda Cans, for example, can interfere with RFID to such an extent that only tags on the outside of a pallet will be read.

    Developing technology -- as RFID tech becomes more advanced, new capabilities will be put into play, and a lot of these may require software and hardware upgrades both for the tags and the readers. This, of course, can be expensive.

    Unreliability -- while bar codes are relatively exensive to use (since they require active scanning within line-of-sight), they are very accurate. RFID tags have a misidentification rate that is higher, and can be compounded by improper placement of the scanned goods, or many other causes (like cell phone and walkie-talkie usage).

    IMO, bar codes will be around for a very long while. Sure, Walmart will use RFID for supply-chain management. But, the real reason they are implementing it is:

    RFID can be used to track consumers inside a store.

    Better product placement, better loss prevention, better tracking of purchases.

    Only the plus side, RFID is blocked by tinfoil hats.
    • Standards -- For one thing, there are many different standards (the US & Europe, for example, use different frequencies). Increased globalization of supply chains will make this a royal PITA, and probably not cost-effective, for many retailers.

      Hate to break it to you, but there are competing standards for barcodes, too. The Europeans and the USians have different standards . The solution? Most barcode readers read all standards. Gee, that was simple.

      Once a standards body creates a definition like UPC (U
  • they figure out a way only I can scan my items.

    At the moment, barcode scanning is obvious enough that I know when I'm being sized up consumer statistics-wise. RFID could allow the lady at the end of the aisle to scan from a distance, and loudly pronounce that you buy X brand and that Y brand is better - there's no limit or control over who could scan what you have...

    Tidbit... I've seen a conveyor belt spin the items slowly to allow the barcode scanner ample time and angles to read every item.
  • limits of RFID (Score:2, Informative)

    by woodsrunner (746751)
    There are many limits to RFID -- for example, how well do those thing withstand extreme cold? I'd like to use them for Artificial Insemination samples in our labs, but I just don't think those things would work too well at temperatures approaching absolute zero. Even if they did, you'd still have to open the insulated containers to get a signal since they are line of sight. I doubt they would work to well in meat or frozen foods either or anything shipped in winter.

    Moreover, their biggest limitiation is ba
  • that will result in even greater efficiency when used together.
  • by savuporo (658486) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:58AM (#13426901)
    I dont know about you, but over here ( Estonia ) we can for example purchase movie theatre tickets online and print them anywhere. The very same barcode-carrying tickets lets you in through the gates in cinema. How's RFID going to replace so simple and cheap system ?
  • by shimmin (469139) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:58AM (#13426904) Journal
    If they can use item-level RFIDs to do inventory management, then so can you. Think of being able to quickly determine a "household manifest" of your consumables, compare that against a desired manifest of what you would like to have when the household is fully stocked, and generate a grocery list instantly. What has really held back the would-be Amazons of the grocery business is that the consumer doesn't know what they want until they see it on the shelf, and sometimes not even then. The supermarket managers do know what the consumer wants, but only in aggregate. So there's this big information crisis between the wholesale level and the items on your shelves, and this information crisis is why the markup at the retail level is a signifcant fraction of the final consumer cost: it pays for people to nicely array the items on shelves, for the parking lots and big wide aisles where your car and you have to sit while you make up your mind as to whether you want something or not, all because there is no better way to determine whether you want something than having you look at it and make the decision. When the price of RFID technology gets down to the point of practicability for this, the smart entrepreneur is going to give away the scanner, becasue the cost and convenience advantages of being automatically inventory your house and order replacements will be self-evident. Heck, when the adoption rate gets high enough, it is self-apparently more efficient for a delivery vehicle to go through neighborhoods than for each household to send a representative to a centralized location.
  • You put all your groceries in the cart, you push the cart into a machine, you are checked out instantly. No longer do you have to have the person scan every single item. Grocery shopping will be 1000x better :o
  • What about rebates? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lildogie (54998) on Monday August 29, 2005 @09:59AM (#13426914)
    Will we be taping the chip to the form instead of the bar code?
  • Wal-mart's warehouse conveyor belts presently move products at 600 feet per minute... but they want to be faster."

    Didn't they see the I Love Lucy episode "The Candy Factory" where she and Ethel worked on just such a conveyor belt for chocolates? The conveyor belt sped up and they couldn't wrap the chocolates fast enough. Eventually they had to start stuffing their faces with chocolate. Would RFID tags have made a difference? I think not.
  • One small problem... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Monday August 29, 2005 @10:16AM (#13427049)
    Bar codes are often used to track documents and forms in large companies, organizations, government agencies, and so on. I don't think placing a RFID chip on every sheet of paper that has to be tracked is a practical solution, to say the least. RFID is great for bulky things and will no doubt replace the bar code for tracking packages, shipments, and things placed on top of other things, but I this is hardly the death of bar codes.
  • Overhyped as usual (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dmccarty (152630) on Monday August 29, 2005 @10:18AM (#13427078)
    I'm not going to waste my time RTFA, because from the description it sounds like they got the "FA" part about right. Reports of anything's "death" in the press are usually greatly exaggerated, because the standard low-cost, cheapo journalists will usually do the following:
    1. Overhype a new technology to sell papers
    2. Overhype companies using technology from #1 to sell papers
    3. Write sky-is-falling articles about companies from #2 when overhyped profits from #1 fail to materialize (to sell papers)
    4. Proclaim the death of technology from #1 to sell papers. Proceed to next technology, and start again at #1. (Yeah, to sell papers.)

    What does this mean for barcodes? Their "death" is nowhere near imminent. I work in the packaging industry and applications for barcode readers are as prevalent as ever.

    "Bar codes" aren't just the UPC codes you see at the store when you checkout. There are a lot of different codes out there--I2of5, pharmacode, EAN, code128, codabar, etc. There are a lot of Fortune 500 companies that have invested a lot of money on systems to print and read these codes, and that process isn't going to go away anytime soon. There are pharmaceutical companies that need to have zero per million defects. That's not going to happen with RFID in the near future.

    RFID chips (and readers) still have too many problems with reliable reading to use them in the industry where barcodes are currently used.

    (I'm sure it's much lower these days, but I was in a plant a few years ago that laid down RFID tags in boxes on a folder-gluer. Did you know that if the carton is produced on a very humid day at the plant the failure rate of RIFD tags can be up to 10%?)

    • I'm a programmer for a company that develops supply-chain software. We are currently working on interfaces to support RFID, because many of our customers are suppliers for Wal-Mart. From our observations, it is true that the technology is not perfected, and the failure rate is unacceptable for industries such as pharmaceutacals.
      I don't see anywhere in the article where the "death of the barcode" is prophecied -- although there is one sentence saying that it "could one day replace barcodes".
      As far as W
  • meanwhile in japan (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mxpengin (516866) on Monday August 29, 2005 @10:22AM (#13427124) Homepage
    Here in Japan I have been surprised by massification in the use of bar-codes that can be read by the cell phones( Services in phones by docomo [nttdocomo.co.jp]). They put this codes basically everywhere ( posters , web pages , products ) , and people can recover information from them with their cell phones . For example, in a poster from a cinema they put a web adress in this codes and people makes use of the camera in the phone to retrieve the web adress of the cinema from it and check for the schedules of the cinema. Some telephones as well have the capabilitiy to create bar codes , that can be displayed on the LCD of the phone and read by other phones. But, as I say , here is Japan and japanese people sometimes has trends that dont leave the island.
  • by D4C5CE (578304) on Monday August 29, 2005 @12:00PM (#13428021)
    RFID could spell the end of the ubiquitous bar code. The big draw? Speeding up supply-chain management.
    It only sounds harmless because bar codes are hardly known to have ever caused humans to come to harm - but for RFID, see these [nocards.org] sites [rfidkills.com] with a much more down-to-earth discussion of the grave differences, and dangers: RFID could spell the end of much more than just the ubiqitous visible and removable arrays of black and white dots or bars - in fact, when carrying numbered tags (or worse) that most customers can neither see nor conceal, let alone prevent from being read without their consent or knowledge, the outlook may be a rather gloomy one...
  • by bad-badtz-maru (119524) on Monday August 29, 2005 @12:42PM (#13428351) Homepage

    In a stark contrast to the warehouse's conveyor belt speed of 600 feet per minute, the store checkout speed is 6 customers per hour.

  • by mpapet (761907) on Monday August 29, 2005 @02:08PM (#13428979) Homepage
    Barcodes work great on individual items. There's already loss prevention systems using some kind of RFID for tracking those really expensive/high profit margin retail items.

    It's further up the supply chain when you've got a pallet with maybe 50 cases on it. Barcode doesn't work very well because:
    1. You have to trust the person creating the pallet's barcode. There is no incentive for walmart to pay an employee more for that trust, so they want a computer instead.
    2. The 50 case pallet needs RFID to accurately report what's on the pallet. If a case or two might "fall off" a barcoded pallet then the barcode is none the wiser. In theory RFID would report the entire contents of the pallet as it's passing through the door.

    The problems:
    A. Cost. Barcodes got RFID beat hands down.
    B. Accuracy. An RFID chip can't communicate through many layers of cardboard/product/cardboard so a pallet with boxes on the inside bottom do not get reported. If you want to be a millionaire, patent an amplifier/antenna that can be sprayed onto a paper tube and dropped down the center of a pallet of goods to get those inside boxes to accurately report. Now, if you don't pay me for this great idea, I'll unleash my submarine patent on you.

    In this application it's not so much what's on the retail floor they're so concerned about it's keeping accurate track of goods at a logistics/warehouse level.

    I gotta stop ordering double-espresso.
  • by hankaholic (32239) on Monday August 29, 2005 @02:28PM (#13429205)
    I heard about this while talking with a guy who deals with warehousing systems for a local supermarket chain.

    It is a misconception that this is for use within the retail stores. In reality this is for use within the warehouses that supply the retail stores. I blame the reporter for making the assumption, and to a lesser extent the summary for running with the bait.

    RFID is still too expensive to be placed within each individual package of Ramen noodles. It won't replace bar codes on the packages bought by consumers, but it is already replacing bar codes within the distribution centers.

    In other words, each crate of Doritos will have an RFID chip that identifies the product. This is useful within the warehouse, as the warehouse deals with crates of product, not with individual packages of Charmin. You'll still see bar codes on products you buy.

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