New automation technology takes stock in real-time

19 Dec 2016

A Hub Member's spin-out from University of Cambridge, PervasID, has launched a new RFID technology to automate stock control in the retail industry.

The system, the world’s first near-100 per cent accurate wide-area passive RFID, allows retailers to see at the click of a button the stock that they have throughout the shop. It uses a network of antennas, located discretely at intervals across the shop floor and stockroom, and a single RFID reader, called Space Ranger 9100, to monitor spaces of up to 400 m2. The system maintains records of stock levels, alerts shop assistants to popular items that are selling fast and gives information about other shops that have the item available. The data collected by the system can also help to aid retailers in improving the shopping experience for customers.

Although the passive tags currently used on clothes and other items are cost-effective, they have a reliable detection range of only two to three metres and so require the shop assistant to check each tag with a handheld reader. 5,000 items take around one hour to check, and as soon as something is removed or added, the whole process must be started again to ensure an accurate picture of stock is maintained. This wastes valuable shop staff time that could be spent helping customers or completing transactions.

Traditional systems also represent a barrier to new shopping habits. Click and Collect, for example, is used by 72 per cent of shoppers (as found by the 2016 Internet Retailing report1) but is limited by the waiting times experienced by customers whilst staff look for their parcel. PervasID’s technology can identify a single parcel immediately within the shop, helping staff to find its exact location for quicker, more convenient pick up.

PervasID

In addition to the day-to-day benefits that the system brings, the data collected by PervasID’s innovative system also unlocks new possibilities for retailers. Because the antennas are located on the ceiling the system is able to track movement of items within the store in real-time, highlighting clothes that are not displayed on sales floors, clothes that are tried on but never purchased and collections of items selected together. It can even track how the shopper moves through the store. All of this data can be used to help the retailer improve the shopping experience and subsequent sales. It also offers opportunities for up-selling by suggesting companion items and alternatives based on success with other shoppers.


The system has been trialled with a major high-street brand. It has installed PervasID Readers in a ~4,000 sq m retail store with ~100,000 tagged items. The system covers intake, storage, sales and fitting room areas over two floors.

Dr Sithamparanathan Sabesan, co-founder & CEO of PervasID who was awarded an Enterprise Fellowship from the Academy in 2014, says the system can provide intelligence to drive up sales: “In a competitive retail environment, an efficient stock taking system can mean the difference between a sale, and the customer leaving empty handed. Our technology gives retailers the ability to give customers answers at the click of a button, and make the shopping experience more enjoyable. It can also prove powerful insight into buying behaviours, enabling retailers to adapt their products and store layout to the needs of the customer, increasing the chances of sales.”

PervasID’s core technologies were developed by a team in the University of Cambridge Engineering Department and commercialised through Cambridge Enterprise, which has worked with the founders since 2009. Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds led a £720k investment round for PervasID which was announced in October 2016.

Gillian Davis, Cambridge Enterprise Technology Manager, said: “It is absolutely fantastic to see PervasID move into the next phase with their company. The founders have worked on this so hard.”

The potential for the PervasID system has been recognised by Victor Christou, CEO of Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC). CIC invests long-term, ‘patient capital’ into companies in the Cambridge cluster, including PervasID, that have disruptive technologies and the potential to become significant players.

Christou says: “Low cost, long distance sensing of passive RFID tags is an unmet need in the retail and logistics industries. PervasID offers a new approach that facilitates a move towards the ‘Internet of Things’ while offering potential for a significant return on investment in the short term. The retailers that we have introduced to PervasID are excited by the potential of the technology to boost sales in their high street stores.”

Ana Avaliani, Head of Enterprise at the Royal Academy of Engineering, which supported Dr Sabesan with business mentoring, training and funding said: “We’ve kept a keen eye on the progress of PervasID ever since its founder, Dr Sithamparanathan Sabesan, was awarded the Royal Academy of Engineering ERA Foundation Entrepreneurship Award five years ago. Since then, the business has gone from strength to strength, securing investment, growing the team and conducting successful trials with High Street retailers. Just this year, Dr Sabesan received our Sir George Macfarlane Medal for excellence in the early stage of his career, recognising the incredible engineering skill that has gone into the development of PervasID's product. The Academy is proud to have supported PervasID’s founders in getting their technology from concept to market, and we are excited to see this talented team taking the company through to its next stage of growth.”

This EPC Gen-2-compliant ultra-high-frequency RFID reader is based on patented award- winning passive RFID reader technology. Itt detects the passive tags within a distributed antenna system (DAS).

Space Ranger 9100, PervasID’s new product, provides greatly extended coverage area compared to PervasID’s current reader, requiring 60 per cent fewer readers and significantly reducing the cost of installation. PervasID has also launched Gate Ranger 9100, a portal reader for strategic locations, such as entrances and exits and loading areas. This provides highly accurate portal solution with tag direction capability.

Space Ranger 9100 and Gate Ranger 9100 were on show at the RFID Journal Live! Europe on 10th November 2016.


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