Wednesday, July 12, 2006

2 Fingers, Or 3? ... The Accountability Of RFID

Typical bar scene at the Mai Thai Bar - Patong beach - Phuket Thailand. Image Credit:

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tag technology has come a long way from just being a tool to log if something or someone has passed through a reader field so that one knows if the object has been tracked to its present location or not.

Now, there are tags that record the movements and duration (time) the tagged object was moved so that one could make assessments as to what was happening with the tagged object without actually watching exactly what had happened to be informed.

These tags are now being applied to liquor bottles to aid the owner as to the efficiency of the bartending staff. These tags track the angle movement of the bottle to be poured and logs the amount of time the bottle is in this position, and with software, the manager is able to determine how much was actually poured and served to the bar customer.

So, when the bartender asks you, "Is it 2 fingers, or 3? ... What he/she really means is - is it a two or three second "tilt" from the RFID-tagged bottle.

Excerpts from eWEEK -

Bartending, RFID Style
By Evan Schuman, Ziff Davis Internet - July 11, 2006

On a busy Saturday night, a good bartender makes a lot of money for the bar's owner, but an overly generous bartender - or one fond of pouring free drinks for friends - can cost the owner even more.

A Miami-based 7-year-old beverage-monitoring software company is drinking from the keg of RFID and is selling a tilt switch that attaches to bottles and updates an Internet database every time the bottle is poured. Hilton, Hyatt, Outback Steakhouse, TGI Fridays and others are reportedly testing the system.

It's not merely recording how many times the bottle is poured, but it factors in the tilt of the bottle, the duration of the pour and the bartender's pouring style to calculate how much liquid is leaving the bottle.

"The software converts the tilt into an estimated volume, and the conversion is automatically perfected based on the history of each bottle; hence it becomes more accurate over time and adapts to each bartender's habits. When the bottle is empty, our sensor knows it and the software readjusts the historical pours of each bottle to the known volume of the bottle," said Beverage Metrics CEO David Teller, who said his company has between $5 million and $10 million in annual revenue. "Our system reconciles pours to ring-ups and recipes and automatically decides what is a long pour that should be changed to two pours [and] when to combine short pours in sequence."

Because the server that watches the tilt-tracking RFID system also tracks the POS (point-of-sale) system, it can also know what ingredients bartenders are using to make drinks and whether they are following the authorized recipes in addition to whether they are pouring too much or too little.

Teller said he expects the sensors to eventually sell for "less than $2 with housing, attachment means, on/off switch, tilt switch, TI micro, five-year battery and RF circuit." Right now, though, the price is closer to $5 plus a subscription fee roughly equivalent to about 1 percent of revenue, Teller said.
Although the system's readers have a range of about 50 feet, Teller said a bartender can't outsmart the system by pouring a drink beyond the range of the sensor - or simply disabling the sensor - because all of the tags are in periodic contact with the server.

"It issues an alert if the tag is removed," he said. "If the sensor doesn't ping, 'Hey, I'm here' after an hour, we start paying attention to that guy."

John Fontanella, an RFID analyst with the Aberdeen Group, dubbed Teller's system "an interesting idea" but wondered whether wireless rings around the bottles would scare off customers and chill some of the bartender-drinker relationship.

But Fontanella is even more cynical about whether it will truly minimize theft. "I'm already thinking about how bartenders will beat this," he said. "They will find a way."
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