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The End of the Bar Code

Hemos posted more than 8 years ago | from the coming-soon-to-everything-near-you dept.

Technology 468

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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468 comments

600 feet per minute... (5, Funny)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426698)

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...

Re:600 feet per minute... (5, Funny)

Bnderan (801928) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426721)

600 feet per minute ought to be enough for anybody.

Re:600 feet per minute... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13426736)

600 feet per minute sounds faster than 10 feet per second. Way to go sensationalism.

America, Fuck Ya

Re:600 feet per minute... (5, Funny)

Donniedarkness (895066) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426755)

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.

Re:600 feet per minute... (5, Funny)

mbelly (827938) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426764)

But the checkouts will be just as slow...

Re:600 feet per minute... (3, Funny)

pmazer (813537) | more than 8 years ago | (#13427008)

I wish you could mod +1 True

Re:600 feet per minute... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13426849)

I don't see how much this is going to help them in the end. I used to work at a Wal-Mart store and they laid off the un-load crew and had us stockers come in at 3am and upload the truck (Small Wal-Mart so only one truck a day). We had to do it all manual. Took us 2 hours to unload onto pallets so we could take it into the store to stock.

Re:600 feet per minute... (2, Informative)

Solder Fumes (797270) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426906)

I don't see how much this is going to help them in the end. I used to work at a Wal-Mart store and they laid off the un-load crew and had us stockers come in at 3am and upload the truck (Small Wal-Mart so only one truck a day). We had to do it all manual. Took us 2 hours to unload onto pallets so we could take it into the store to stock.

I seen the whole Wal-Mart distribution system, and your part was the insignificant ass-end of what the product goes through to get to the shelf. Any speedups in the distribution and import centers will vastly improve things for Wal-Mart.

Re:600 feet per minute... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13426998)

Right. But, as someone who used to work in warehouse recieving/stockkeeping, I'm not exactly convinced that the barcode readers are the speed limiting factor. Or, more to the point, that speeding up the reading process would ipso facto allow them to run at faster speeds.

Here's the thing. Various packages/items on a conveyor get read by barcode readers at various points. They then either get diverted or left on the main line, depending on the scan results. This will happen some numbers of times. And, yes, there's a maximum speed to ensure a proper scan, and scanning faster/more accuratly will allow the scan and divert process to go faster.

But at the end of the day, the item winds up getting diverted to some queue where it's manually handled. This is where all the programmers out there can hopefully see the issue. Each queue has a finitie capacity, and this is generally determined by the physical layout of the warehouse. Overflowing the queue can be a major issue--items back up onto the main conveyor line because they've nowhere to go.

So, if you plan to speed up the conveyors, you need to ensure you have significant excess capacity on the physical queues. To some extent, labor can help get things out of queue faster, but even that has limits--eventually people are elbowing each other out of the way. Actually, the "I love Lucy" comparison is pretty dead-on here.

Short version--removing one bottleneck often just uncovers the next. And, if the warehouses (and so the queues) were designed on the assumption of one level of throughput, a different level of throughput may require a significant redesign to the existing facilities, which ain't cheap...

Re:600 feet per minute... (1)

EnderWiggnz (39214) | more than 8 years ago | (#13427002)

yup.... WalMart is a logistics company first.

They just happen to own a couple retail outlets.

Re:600 feet per minute... (4, Interesting)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426955)

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 (2, Interesting)

Chaotic Spyder (896445) | more than 8 years ago | (#13427018)

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..

If only they could put half of the engineering they put into that plant into every Wal-Mart so checkout lines would disappear. Something like the self checkout at Loblaws combined with this RFID would be very sweet. Walk through a sensor and swipe my credit card and then off to the car in seconds...

Bar codes more useful (3, Funny)

coinreturn (617535) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

600 feet per minute = (2, Informative)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426714)

6.81818... miles per hour. That's a brisk walk.

Re:600 feet per minute = (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13426732)

how many time could you circle the library of congress at that speed?

Re:600 feet per minute = (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13426768)

A "brisk walk" if your legs are 11 feet long.

Re:600 feet per minute = (2, Informative)

mrscorpio (265337) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426819)

You must be 8 feet tall...a brisk walk for me and most everyone I know is 4 mph...6.8 would be a light jog.

Go ahead, set your treadmill to it.

Metric = 10,97 kmph (1)

Barryke (772876) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426919)

600 (feet per minute)
= 3.04800 m / s
= 10.9728 km per hour
= 6.81818182 mile per hour

says Google.

Re:600 feet per minute = (1)

Fear the Clam (230933) | more than 8 years ago | (#13427019)

That's hellabrisk.

I walk faster than anyone else I know, and my gotta-be-somewhere pace is 4.6 MPH, or 404.8 feet per minute.

I know... (5, Interesting)

trevordactyl (908770) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:I know... (1)

SeekerDarksteel (896422) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426759)

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

Hey, remember this is /. That IS what we really have to gain from RFID.

No, expedite you standing in lines. (0)

jasonhamilton (673330) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426762)

.. so that you can get home and watch porno faster.

If you relish your time waiting in lines to check out, you're life isn't going to be one anyone will miss.

I disagree. (2, Insightful)

Lellor (910974) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426783)

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 important than standing in a qeue waiting for a cashier to process everyone's purchases.

Re:I disagree. (4, Funny)

Harald Paulsen (621759) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426948)

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.

Re:I disagree. (1)

Sancho (17056) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426950)

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 lanes to make sure people aren't cheating the system (or more likely, to make sure people /think/ they're being watched). But not always.

RFID would make these systems marginally faster. In theory, with a well designed system, you wouldn't even need to take the items out of your cart. More reasonably, the items will need bagging, but you could skip the entire scanning process.

Even with staffed checkout lanes, there would be a speed increase for all but the most skilled scanners. I've seen some people who are really good at their job that can scan faster than the conveyor belt can throw items at them, but most of the time there is hunting for the barcode, trying to scan multiple times, etc. before the item hits the bag. RFID would completely negate this process, with the only delays being if an item was simply unreadable.

Re:I know... (1)

BorisAmmerlaan (698136) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426784)

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?

Somehow, I don't see barcodes disappearing anytime soon. It took ages for all stores to adopt barcode scanners, and they might be a tad unwilling to switch again.

RFID tags won't eliminate the need for cashiers either. You still need one either to deactivate the tag or to run the product by the RFID scanner. (Well, you could trust people to do it themsel... nah.)

Re:I know... (1)

erlenic (95003) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426844)

The faster they move merchandise, the more they can move. More merchandise means more revenue.

Re:I know... (5, Insightful)

NardofDoom (821951) | more than 8 years ago | (#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... (0, Troll)

Kid Zero (4866) | more than 8 years ago | (#13427038)

or one where a small number of rich people prosper while hundreds of millions are left unemployed. Much like the world now, huh?

ATM Much (3, Insightful)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:I know... (1)

moviepig.com (745183) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426924)

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.

Re:I know... (1)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426992)

"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 interactions with strangers will give us more time to spend with the people in our lives who really count.

" 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?"

Uh... do you have any family or friends? Is the supermarket teller really your only human interaction outside of work?

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

bmeteor (167631) | more than 8 years ago | (#13427032)

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 the need for human contact, but it could possibly facilitate that.

Another reason why retailers want this is loss prevention. It'd be really easy to tell if something was stolen if it had RFID in it. It's great for business to have a liberal return policy, but there are tons of people that abuse that with trying to return stolen merchandise, etc. If retailers had RFID, they could save a lot of money, through lessening theft and LP training. Some may pass those savings on to you, something to the order of 5 bucks on a 40 dollar shirt.

I'm personally for it. I hate having to wait in a line for a half an hour during christmas.

Re:I know... (1)

aussie_a (778472) | more than 8 years ago | (#13427041)

the last thing I need is another thing to expedite my trip through life.

Whatever speeds up my time in a store is fine by me (unless of course it has a side-effect of killing children, I guess that would be bad... depending which children). I don't know about you, but going shopping isn't my idea of fun, and it has nothing to do with human contact (now if there was naked contact with pretty women at the stores, I wouldn't be in such a rush).

You might enjoy low-grade quality contact with humans, but for me, the less time wasted on low-grade contact, the more time for high-grade contact.

Dupe! (4, Insightful)

schtum (166052) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

New? (1)

mfh (56) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426796)

The story may have been here before in other forms, but RFID is nothing new and while we don't like the fact that big brother keeps getting their tech-house in order, the simple truth is that every tool can be used for good or evil, just not RFID, right?

Re:Dupe! (1)

jordipg (910826) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426809)

The same summary, because the same concerns inevitably arise: the technology's ultimate relevance to the story of human history.

How will this bring us closer to 1984? How will this take us farther from the status quo?

The socially responsible development of technology seems to be something that is frequently talked about, but always summarily ignored. It's as if the one requisite for a given technology is that some one, or some group, voice their protests. It's enough to have the meme implanted somewhere in the human psyche, reminding us of the potential for disaster. And then we go on about our merry way, developing RFID's or day-after pills or clones.

This meek protest is a small price to pay, given that development will always, always take place, somewhere. No amount of discussion will block the tide of technology, because we care so much more about what the technology will do for our hedonistic lifestyle.

New Section Suggestion (5, Funny)

robbkidd (154298) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426730)

To our Slashdot Overlords:

Can we get a "The End of ..." section?

Re:New Section Suggestion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13426916)

Like I really want to see the logo for THAT section!

You'll like it. (1)

game kid (805301) | more than 8 years ago | (#13427021)

It'll be Gaspar from Chrono Trigger [wikipedia.org] or something.

The end of ... (5, Funny)

Virtex (2914) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426738)

The End of the Bar Code

Yep, the bar code is dead. Right after BSD dies. Should be any day now.

Re:The end of ... (1)

chargen (90268) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426864)

Not before I move into my paperless office! It's only about 20 years overdue.

-chargen

Great News (4, Insightful)

DrSkwid (118965) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426740)

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.

The problem (5, Insightful)

BlackCobra43 (596714) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426803)

Such a reader would also probably enable you to read what's in your neighbour's cupboard as well.

Only your stupid neighbors :) (1)

FatSean (18753) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426923)

Line the cabinets with RF-defeating something or other and put the scanner INSIDE. Do you really need to know what's sitting on the counter? Not really...you can just look...but knowing whats in the depths of the refridgerator or cabinets would be nice.

You mean, like *tinfoil*? (1)

BlackCobra43 (596714) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426964)

Line the cabinets with RF-defeating something or other

See, those conspiracy theorists were just ahead of their time.

Re:The problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13427042)

Don't RFID readers usually work a few feet away, max?

too much! (5, Interesting)

fuelvolts (852701) | more than 8 years ago | (#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!

RFID? I'll show you your RFID! (4, Funny)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 8 years ago | (#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. (4, Insightful)

Safety Cap (253500) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426753)

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.

Re:N.O. (1)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426795)

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. (2, Insightful)

hackstraw (262471) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426845)

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 codes because bar codes are so inexpensive and easy. Even if the bar code is mangled beyond laser scanning, the numbers can be manually fed into the device if need be.

Both technologies are excellent. I used bar codes as an IQ test for the cashier when I'm buying canned cat food in bulk :) If the cashier scans each identical item...

Re:N.O. (2, Informative)

Silicon Jedi (878120) | more than 8 years ago | (#13427026)

then the cashier may be required to by the company they work for.

Re:N.O. (1)

NardofDoom (821951) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426958)

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 (3, Interesting)

Jestrzcap (46989) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Commercial (1)

erlenic (95003) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426873)

I know most people here think that RFID is evil, but stuff like that makes me wish it was here now. Imagine walking into a store, grabbing what you need off the shelf, then walking out. No checkout line involved, not even the self checkout.

Re:Commercial (2, Informative)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 8 years ago | (#13427039)

What about buying a bag of fruit that I picked from the produce section? The only way I see that working is if there is a weighing station in the produce section that can program an RFID tag on the spot and let you stick it onto the bag. Wegmans does this now with barcode printers in the produce section. You put your fruit on the scale, punch in the 4-digit PLU and a barcode sticker w/price is printed for you to put on the bag.

Re:Commercial (1)

Solder Fumes (797270) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426883)

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 (2, Insightful)

Asprin (545477) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426898)


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.)

Re:Commercial (1)

BlackCobra43 (596714) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426990)

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?

Probably a good decision (3, Insightful)

madprof (4723) | more than 8 years ago | (#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...

Re:Probably a good decision (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13426890)

"Getting lost"? Probably getting nicked, in reality.

biased much? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

perhaps for the future... (0)

strider44 (650833) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426769)

I sort of wonder when we'd use stuff like RFID to make it so when you get to the checkout counter you'd pile your stuff on the conveyer belt and it will automatically detect everything that goes over it and charge automatically. You'd have the checkout girl/guy packing bags at the other end. The ultimate speed checkout.

Re:perhaps for the future... (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426817)

Why not just pack things into bags as you go around the store, and then just swipe your credit card as you walk through the scanner at the exit? Having to stop and re-pack all of your shopping seems like an unnecessary bottleneck.

Re:perhaps for the future... (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426869)

I sort of wonder when we'd use stuff like RFID to make it so when you get to the checkout counter you'd pile your stuff on the conveyer belt

More likely it'll be built into the trolley so all you do is stop at the counter, the trolley tells the register how much you should pay, and the chashier makes sure you swipe your card.

The cashier time it saves by not having them scan individual items will be how it pays for itelf.

I don't see... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13426776)

I don't see how this will work. Wally World supposedly has all this great technology but it all just falls apart at the end of the chain, the store level. I work in one of the busiest, highest profit stores in the company and it's nearly impossible to find a scanner even to check a price, much less do anything else. Doing our jobs is very difficult because Wal-Mart just doesn't want to put up the money to give us the equipment we need.

So RFID may be a wonderful technology and all that, but if they do it half-assed, it won't be any better than a bar code.

Re:I don't see... (1)

erlenic (95003) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426895)

I think their current plan is to track whole skids, and only until it gets to the store. They want to cut down on the time needed to document the loading and unloading of trucks. In-store RFID is probably a little further away.

Is Satan joining the computer revolution? (0, Offtopic)

wangmaster (760932) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426790)

Does this mean that armageddon isn't coming? Or does this just mean that satan is joining the computer revolution and will be embedding us all with RFID's encoded with 666?

Mixed up Goods (2, Insightful)

Flamesplash (469287) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426801)

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.

It took bar codes 50+ years to mature... (4, Informative)

pieterh (196118) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426802)

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.

Re:It took bar codes 50+ years to mature... (3, Interesting)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426884)

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.

Re:It took bar codes 50+ years to mature... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13427036)

...during the 20th century (1901-2000) mankind made 20 years progress in terms of the rate of progress for the year 2000.

On what do you base this amazing statement? Your own opinion? Some agreed measure of "progress"? The number of .com/.net/.org registrations? The proportion of people on earth with access to clean water? The amount of oil consumed?

Even if we agree that "progress" means "technological sophistication", there is no evidence that we are ever moving at anything else than the same speed.

The "ever increasing speed of progress" is an illusion. It's like building a pyramid. It takes forever to build the lower part, and the top gets completed so fast! Wow!

It took shops 20-30 years to get laser scanners installed. Why would they switch to RFID now, especially when laser scanners work so well?

Lastly, never blindly accept the opinions of people who have a vested interest in the subject. "Yeah, sure", is the wisest answer when someone tries to tell you that their invention is the next big thing.

Bar codes aren't going anywhere. (4, Insightful)

HEbGb (6544) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

The Mark of the Beast (0, Offtopic)

SunPin (596554) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426814)

Wal-Mart executives have cloven feet.

They won't be going away soon... (5, Interesting)

ap0 (587424) | more than 8 years ago | (#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... (2, Informative)

Iphtashu Fitz (263795) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

All those people (4, Funny)

WormholeFiend (674934) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426846)

who got a barcode tattoo because they thought it would look cool and anti-corporate are gonna be pissed off!

No need to worry. (1)

game kid (805301) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426957)

They can always erase it and tattoo a transmitting antenna in its place.

Yeah, radio towers are SO badass.

Too early to call the fight (5, Insightful)

Red Flayer (890720) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426854)

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.

Re:Too early to call the fight (1)

Richthofen80 (412488) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426970)

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 (Universal Product Code, its how manufacturers avoid duplication of barcodes across differing products) for RFID comes about, then RFID will be more viable in a retail space. But for supply chain management, where packaging and other material often get in the way of scanning, RFID is ready to take hold now.

Barcodes will be dead when.... (2, Interesting)

fostware (551290) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426858)

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.

What about Scanning (0, Redundant)

rflashman (845885) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426860)

I wonder how do I scan a RFID that has been faxed to me from the other side of the world? Guess not... BAR CODES will still be quite useful for a very long time...

Just like the floppy disk... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13426863)

What will happen is that there will be Bar Codes AND RFID Tags in the product.

Bar Codes are here to stay. They are easy to read, are human readable (at least the ones that have the numbers below the bars) and are easy to implement with current tech.

There will be a time where RFID will be human readable, but i hope to be long dead by then...

limits of RFID (2, Informative)

woodsrunner (746751) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426866)

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 bad data design. For example that chip Tommy Thompson seems to be backing away from inserting... I heard on Wisconsin Public radio it only gives a unique 8 digit identifier to be entered into a website to obtain the medical info. A number that small wouldn't come close to being able to give a unique number to the US population let alone the world's -- it seems like it would be too easy to get the wrong info on someone, let alone be able to wardial the database for fun and profit.

RFID seems to be a great way to manage drygoods, but medical applications can be dangerous. What do you do if the chip gets lost in the body as frequently happens with dogs? Even worse, what do you do with the thing when you get an MRI? Would it rocket out of your body to the strong magnet?

I think down the road there will be many useful applications, but we are still trying to figure out how to do simple things with them -- which is why Walmart's deadline to have everything RFID is long gone and forgotten as even the big players are trying to figure out how to get the things to work. Ethical concerns aside, the technology is still too new to be reliable but it does show promise.

Satan is my pal (1)

lsymms (831217) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426881)

Ok so the barcode wasn't the mark of the beast but I know for a FACT that this RFID contraption is. REPENT!

They are complimentary technologies (1)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426899)

that will result in even greater efficiency when used together.

barcodes are everywhere (5, Interesting)

savuporo (658486) | more than 8 years ago | (#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 ?

Re:barcodes are everywhere (1)

Winterblink (575267) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426977)

Short answer: it won't. The two systems will co-exist probably forever. RFID has applications that simple barcodes don't, and the reverse is true as well.

Don't fear the RFID (2, Insightful)

shimmin (469139) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426904)

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.

The thing i look forward to is (1)

hsmith (818216) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426910)

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

End of bar code draws protest from the greens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13426911)

The joint official press statement of the World WildLife Fund, Greenpeace and the ATTAC movement follows:

We, the animal-loving people of the world strongly condemn the capitalistic, imperialistic death edict issued against the bar code by Wal-Mart and its greedy servants, 3M and Kraft.

The welfare of zebras must always have priority over the desires of the ver more profit hungry retail industry which only serves to turns peope into ka-ching consumer automatons all over the world!

What about rebates? (4, Interesting)

lildogie (54998) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426914)

Will we be taping the chip to the form instead of the bar code?

Wal-mart redesign Denver Airport Baggage System? (1)

Zemplar (764598) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426915)

At an already 600fpm and wanting to improve, am I the only on thinking that Wal-mart should have designed the Denver International Airport Baggage System? [uci.edu]

Forget WarDriving (2, Insightful)

Vlatro (899843) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426927)

How fun could it be to stand outside of a wallmart with a modified scanner, and get a list on your handheld of every item in a shopper's cart on their way out. Hell, third parties could scan for a week at one location, and put togeather a very valuable marketing databases detailing the value of an item in a given demographic. Or it could just give you a "heads up" that the girl you were trying to pick up on in the produce section just bought a large supply of anti-fungal cream. Helpful info.

what about my cat? (1)

Eric Coleman (833730) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426978)

Is this the end of my cat [google.com] ? Oh, the horror!

To each his own (1)

payr0k (861155) | more than 8 years ago | (#13426989)

In warehouses and manufacturing situations, RFID provides many advantages since it doesn't rely on optics to obtain data about the product moving on the line.

Barcodes have their place in the retail space and in situations where the expense would be prohibitive.

Where I work, we even use a combination of both, to keep different types of information seperate.

Both technologies have their uses and I don't believe either will go away.

I Love Lucy - The Candy Factory (1, Funny)

Ranger (1783) | more than 8 years ago | (#13427015)

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.

Substitute for bad managers... (1)

syphax (189065) | more than 8 years ago | (#13427037)

I've studied RFID a bit.

For my industry, the business case (benefits vs. costs) for RFID just isn't attractive right now.

From what I've heard, one of Wal-Mart's real motivations is that they have not-great in-store inventory management- they have problems keeping the front of the store properly replenished from the back of the store, b/c checking for empty shelf locations is time-consuming and slow. And an empty shelf = lost sales.

There are (at least) 2 solutions to this problem: better processes and management, and RFID, which will make it easier to find out where the hell the inventory is in the store.

With 2500+ stores in the U.S. alone, standardizing processes and ensuring a high-quality management and workforce is a tall order (esp. given Wal-Mart's pay and benefits); Wal-Mart seems to have decided that it'd be better to implement RFID, which will let them know how much inventory is on the shelf vs. in the back room.

At least that's what I hear.

One small problem... (2, Interesting)

Foobar of Borg (690622) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.
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