While a lot of the attention at NRF this year was on NFC, beacons, and even LIRAD at the Google booth (more on this later), a standout in taking barcode scanning to the next level was Scandit. The Zurich-based company is taking mobile scanning into interesting directions for B2B, B2C, and even B2E (business-to-employee) solutions. The quick takeaway is two-fold: putting fast, accurate, and versatile scanning apps on all types of smartphones and tablets; and leveraging the scanned data into cloud-based, enterprise applications.
In a customer-facing example, The Container Store is using Scandit technology to let customers scan items in their Manhattan store and then have them delivered to their home. The Container Store calls it “Scan and Deliver.” Shoppers pick up one of the store’s iPhone 6s with the Scandit Case on it. They can browse, handle, and examine whatever they want, but then they just scan the items they want to purchase, without needing to lug them to the checkout.
“The Container Store tells us that they’re seeing significantly bigger basket size with the Scan and Deliver system,” said Samuel Mueller, Co-Founder and CEO of Scandit. “They’re addressing this key anxiety of the shoppers, who don’t really want to take their big items with them into the subway.”
On a side note, Google demonstrated a prototype of a real-time, 3D crowd scanning application that uses LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) to create low-resolution images of every person in its view. The technology would allow a retailer to do shopper counts in real time and track the flow of in-store traffic. An even more advanced use of the system might recognize when a shopper raises a hand for help and automatically send an associate to offer assistance.
Many retailers are realizing that they now have many options for mobile scanning, in the store, the back room, and even in the warehouse. In addition to the ruggedized scanners specifically designed for the industry, mobile phones have now been tapped as lightweight, always-available devices. And because smartphones already come with cameras, WiFi, and cell connections--and customers as well as employees already have smartphones with them--the only thing missing is industrial-strength scanning software.
Scandit provides that and licenses its SDK (software development kit) so that retailers can integrate scanning into their existing apps or build new ones from scratch. Scandit Flow offers ready-made scanning workflows for common tasks and the ability to build onto them with its enterprise-level cloud platform. What this really means for scanning is that it can be used for data capture on mobile devices and then incorporated into the retailer’s higher-level business processes and reporting.
“You’re starting to capture many more data points,” Mueller said, “and at a much more fine-grained level. So, with all these business processes that the devices and software are supporting, you can start to leverage the data you now have available in real time.”
Scandit’s algorithms have improved the speed and accuracy of scanning barcodes, overcoming the common difficulties many scanners have with codes that are blurry, distorted, broken up, small, or with insufficient contrast. Low light, high distance, and glare are three other factors that prevent faster and more accurate scanning.
Scandit is also attempting to compete with RFID, in a sense, by showing that it can scan multiple barcodes at once. The ability to scan and capture all the codes within the phone’s field of vision enables scanning to take over the common RFID task of taking inventory quickly, for example.
Since Scandit’s SDK has cross-platform flexibility, customers might start thinking about hands-free applications as well. While Google shelved its Glass sales to consumers two years ago, sales to enterprise companies such as Boeing and GE may actually be on the rise. Microsoft’s HoloLens is still in its infancy, but deployments as wearable scanning devices could be much more viable in the short term than the full virtual reality functionality that Microsoft envisions. In a Scandit scenario, for example, a warehouse picker who could scan with a headset instead of a handheld could move a lot faster and be considerably more productive. Scandit adds that there’s no reason why a drone or robot couldn’t be deployed as a scanning device. Drones, for example, might make excellent choices for scanning barcodes on high warehouse shelves.
Also during NRF, Scandit introduced its Scandit Case for iPod Touch. This second-generation release extends its existing line for the iPhone 6 and 6s. The Case adds a bit of ruggedness to the device, but the real point is to redirect the camera’s view and the flash to shoot directly from the top, instead of at a right angle. Of course, no case would ruggedize a smartphone to the same level as a dedicated handheld scanner, but the tradeoff in cost is significant.
For many retail associates and logistics workers, the Case presents a familiar feel. The only moving part is a scan button directly over the volume controls on the left. Sleds and sleeves traditionally add the desired form factor and protection but, in doing so, add new potential points of failure from the additional electronics. Scandit aims to limit the need for repairs with its electronics-free case approach.
To show off its motion compensation capability at NRF, Scandit created a novel way to scan one-dimensional EAN-13 barcodes at high speed. An iPhone running the Scandit app was mounted, pointing at a wheel that spun, accelerating with eight different barcodes on it. Top speed: ten codes per second.
It may be a while before Scandit’s smartphone and tablet approach to scanning puts a significant dent in the dedicated handheld scanner business, but many retailers, including Party City, The Home Depot, and Sephora have already added Scandit’s scanning solutions to their mix. It’s also not clear if creating better algorithms for mobile scanning apps counts as rocket science, but another one of Scandit’s customers is, well, NASA. Find out more at https://www.scandit.com/
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