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Ice cream with (RFID) chips to go

Jaikumar Vijayan | May 17, 2010
St. Paul ice cream shop turns to RFID to give customer real-time scoop on flavors

FRAMINGHAM, 14 MAY 2010 - Businesses are using Radio Frequency ID (RFID) tags to track everything from large shipping containers, to livestock to tiny electronic components. It's unlikely though if any business is using the technology for the same purpose as Izzy's Ice Cream Cafe in St. Paul, Minn.

The shop, which epitomizes the classic mom-and-pop business, has concocted close to 100 flavors of ice cream and serves 32 flavors at any one time. Until this week, customers had little way of knowing if their favorite flavors -- Peppermint Bon Bon, Cherries Jubilee and Dulce de Leche to name a few -- were available until they arrived at the counter.

Not any more. On Monday, Izzy's started using RFID technology to give customers real-time updates on all the available flavors in its dipping cabinet, the glass covered case where the tubs of ice cream are displayed.

RFID readers stuck in the dipping cabinets scan tags attached to the signs that go above each ice cream tub to give customers updated information on available ice cream flavors. Each time one tub of ice cream is replaced with a new flavor, an employee swaps out the RFID tag in front of the tub with the one corresponding to the new flavor.

RFID readers in the dipping cabinet scan the tags 22 times every second and send the information to a system which then projects a series of dots representing different flavors onto a wall in the store.

Customers glance at the colored dots projected on the wall, or on the plasma TV behind the counter, to find out what flavors the store is serving at any time. No more anxious moments of uncertainty. No more even having to come to the store to get the scoop on what Izzy's has available. The information grabbed by the RFID readers is pumped to Izzy's Web site where a new Web page lists all the flavors the shop is serving.

Those willing to risk missing out on their favorite flavor can even tarry a bit on the Web page and play a memory game with the dots. Or they can hover over the dots to discover that Izzy classics, such as its Dark Chocolate Zin, is made from Italian balsamic vinegar and Ravenswood red zinfandel, or that perennial favorite Salted Carmel is almost always available. Customers who sign up, can get e-mail updates (and soon text messages) when their favorite flavor is being served. Izzy's also sends updates to its Facebook page and Twitter account.

If all this seems like a bit much for an ice cream shop, it isn't for Jeff Sommers, the English major and fine arts grad-turned-tech nerd who, along with his wife Lara Hammel, runs the store.


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