Digital Signage Gets Physical - Part 1: RFID

This is the first in our multi-part series on interfacing digital signage with the physical world. We will cover a number of various sensor technologies and how they can be utilized by the Revel Digital platform.

Digital signage has become much more of a dynamic medium where the content is driven in part by real-time conditions and environmental context. Advertisers would much rather pay for adverts when there is a suitable context (eg. it's raining so advertise umbrellas), and when they know someone is attentive or at least in the proximity of the sign. Context can also be defined by a person physically interacting with an item (ie. lift and learn). In these instances, sensors in smart shelving can trigger specific signage based on the item of interest. There is a vast array of sensor technologies now available to meet the criteria for context awareness in digital signage and we hope this series will help to better understand how those technologies can be utilized in your digital signage deployments.

What is RFID?

The first in our series covers RFID (Radio Frequency Identification). RFID is a wireless technology for identifying objects based on 'tags'. These tags contain electronically stored information which is retrieved by an RFID 'reader'. In most cases the tags are passive devices (not powered) which derive their power from the electromagnetic energy transmitted by the reader. The tags emit their unique ID which the reader then sends to the computer for processing. NFC is a term sometimes used reciprocally with RFID, but is in fact a subset of the RFID technology. NFC is a high frequency variant of RFID.

RFID for Digital Signage

RFID is a great fit for product information displays. Someone interested in a product would either lift the product, or place the product on a designated area to trigger the relevant information on the digital signage. Both these scenarios are driven by the ability for RFID to determine an objects ID as well as the distance to that object wirelessly. Later, in our example, we will implement a simple 'place to learn' kiosk where the product is placed on or held near the reader in order to trigger the signage.

Revel Digital Integration

There are a number of methods for integrating RFID and the Revel Digital platform. Which methods to use will depend on the complexity of the use case. If, for example, you are looking to simply show a particular image or video in a playlist when a tag is read, then our Smart Scheduling will do the trick. For more complex scenarios where a number of actions are to be performed, then using custom scripting is the likely route.

Hardware Selection

There are a wide array of RFID readers on the market which can make selecting one confusing. It really boils down to how much range is required (how much distance between the reader and tag), how many tags need to be read simultaneously, and what type of tag you want to read. The only requirement, from a Revel Digital perspective, is that the reader supports a serial communications protocol (RS232) preferably over USB.

Demonstration

Our demo will utilize Smart Scheduling to show an image, in this case a shoe, that is associated with a specific tag. The concept is that when someone is interested in more information related to a particular shoe, they will place the shoe on or near a pedestal containing the RFID reader. A tag attached to the shoe will then trigger the appropriate media to display on the digital signage.

Hardware

SparkFun RFID Starter Kit
We will be using the SparkFun RFID Starter Kit for our reader hardware. This kit contains everything necessary for a fully functional RFID implementation, including sample tags.

For our digital signage player we will be using the RKM Android PC running the Revel Digital app.



Step 1:

Register your Android PC player with your Revel Digital account. If you are new to Revel Digital look here to get your first device registered.

Step 2:

Attach RFID reader to Android PC using standard USB cable

Step 3:

With your player registered in Revel Digital and running, attach a keyboard and press Shift-F12 to access the player settings. Check 'Enable USB serial port'.

Check the box 'Enable USB serial port' in the player settings
Step 4: 

Create a slideshow playlist in your Revel Digital account containing the media you wish to show when a tag is detected by the reader. In our case we uploaded a couple different images of boots.

Create a slideshow playlist of images associated with your tags

Step 5:

To associate each item in your playlist with an RFID tag you will need to define a Smart Schedule for each item with a Command condition. To do this, click on an item in your playlist, then click the Schedule tab. Add a When condition of type 'Command' and enter 'serial' for the command name. The command argument will need to match the ID of the tag your wish to use.

Add a Smart Schedule condition to the playlist item with your tag ID
Step 6:

Create a template and add a single Slideshow zone. Assign the playlist we just created to that zone. Save the template and schedule the template to play. For help with the basics of using the Revel Digital platform please refer to our Getting Started Guide.

End Result

Scanning your tags will now result in the associated media displaying on the the screen as shown here.


Conclusion

RFID is a mature technology and well suited to a wide variety of digital signage applications. Revel Digital provides all the tools necessary to implement an RFID solution easily and cost effectively. For more information please contact us and we will be happy to assist.


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