Johan Bostrom; IDG News Service; May 23, 2005
Some cafes and retail stores in Seattle have begun individually marketing products and services to passersby using radio frequency identification (R.F.I.D.) technology. The first target group is visually and hearing-impaired individuals who can benefit from positioning and navigation applications added to the system.
Six wireless public areas, called activation fields, are now ‘live’ throughout downtown Seattle and at the city's ferry terminal. Over the next few months, 15 more city areas will be added. Users carrying an active tag and entering one of the activation fields are recognised as the tag is read and are then presented with announcements.
"Speakers are mounted on the telephone booth or the facade of the store. So they will be above the individual's head when they pass underneath or nearby," said Harry H. Hart III, Founder and C.E.O. of Seattle's Awarea Corp., which owns and manages the system.
Users of the personalised marketing system carry an active R.F.I.D. tag roughly the size of a stack of four credit cards. When the tag comes within 100 feet of a transmitter sending low-frequency signals at 126KHz, the tag transmits a unique identification signal to a receiver connected to a monitoring and execution server.
Depending on what information the system has on file about the individual, the server selects the correct file to output -- either an audio file in Microsoft Corp.'s WAV format for an announcement or an Apple Computer Inc. QuickTime file for American Sign Language to be displayed on a video monitor.
Customers seeking more information can push a "tell me more" button, explained Ben Donohue, Vice President of Business Development for Axcess Inc., which is providing the hardware and designing the system.
Data about the customer can be mined and sold to the retailers, Donohue said. It can also be used to personalise marketing and map customer behaviour.
One hundred thirty active R.F.I.D. tags have been in use for a year at a test site with only one transmitter at Pioneer Square. Beginning June 1, when other transmitters were activated in the downtown area, more tags will be sold and rented.
The system could also be used by tourists who want guidance in the downtown Seattle area.