Chain of Thought

Technologies Can Converge Without Crashing

In this “TMI” era, “Too Much Information” really becomes a problem if it's collected via too many automatic platforms. Sometimes two is too many, especially if those platforms, like bar codes and radio frequency, conflict. That's why industry is now demanding that there be commonality among these different forms of data collection, and GS1, the international standards making body, is mapping the way. Working with VDC Research, it put out a new whitepaper on this subject. It's titled “Barcode & RFID Convergence: Enabling Greater Visibility,” and it explains why this is so critical:

“The ability to easily leverage information gathered from multiple systems and then port that information – in real-time – will open up the floodgates for analytics, dashboards and real-time alerting, driving the decision making processes down as low as it can possibly be driven. Just like RFID increases the value of barcode but needs to work with it to provide that value, new solutions will be faced with the same conundrum, thus furthering the requirement for a common architecture.”

RFID and bar codes are destined to share that architecture, but a data collection technology that's not mentioned specifically in this white paper is voice. According to the authors of an article running in MH&L's December issue, voice will become part of that convergence once certain technological and cost obstacles are worked out.

Authors Chris Sweeney and Dan Keller of Lucas Systems Inc. say once that happens a user will be directed to a pick location by voice and the user will trigger (hands-free, by voice) an RFID reader to read a tag on a product or location. These technologies combined in one unit will be stronger than any one of them by itself. Compared to bar code scanning, RFID is a true hands-free technology. Compared to voice, RFID reduces the potential for human error (reading a location check string but picking from an adjacent slot).

Another voice technology provider, Voxware, just became a private company to make it easier to drive these technologies toward such convergence. Voxware's CEO Scott Yetter told me R&D investments are easier for private companies to make.

“We're able to say, if I spend $10 on R&D now I'll get $20 back in nine or 12 months, whereas under a public company structure if I spend $10 now if I don't get it back I have to show a loss for that reporting period,” he said. “Now we can hire more developers and invest in new technology. Most of the applications we install today do something more than using voice. There's also convergence at the network level—3g, 4g, wifi—so we're looking at taking the technology outside the four walls, like on a truck.”

If convergence has brought automatic data collection technologies to a crossroads, transportation may take them further into a lot more markets.

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