New technology could change checkout lanes

March 22, 2010 4:54:12 PM PDT
The future of shopping may be in a test tube at Rice University. Researchers there are working on a way to bring EZ tag convenience to the grocery store. The technology in the EZ tag makes getting around the beltway a breeze and now similar technology could speed up the grocery store checkout lane. And you wouldn't even need to have 10 items or less.

Let's face it, grocery shopping is not backbreaking work, but if you've ever had a couple of items in the cart and gotten stuck behind a family of four, you know it can be time consuming. But the checkout lane may be about to go into warp speed. Imagine being able to have all your groceries totaled instantly, the moment you walk up to the checkout counter. No more cart to bar code reader transfer, just walk up, total up and pay up in an instant.

Shopper Megan Fitzsimmons said, "I think something like that would be helpful especially if you have huge carts full of things and kids in the carts with them."

Making groceries an express lane reality is the promise of an otherwise ordinary looking liquid.

"This is an ink made out of carbon nano tubes and other carbon structures," explained James Tour, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry.

Rice University professor James Tour says while you can't see them, there are millions of carbon nanotubes in the ink. The nanotubes can be printed onto packages to form small electric transistors like this one that emit radio frequencies. The RFID tags would act like a bar code, except they would not have to be read by a scanner.

Tour said, "Instead of a bar code you would have an RFID tag and that RFID tag would immediately give out information so if you are going out the checkout line you don't have to hold this up to a little scanner."

A store cash register would be able to detect the signals of a cart full of products instantly and give you the total within seconds. So how long before we say good bye to long lines?

"Probably about five years because this is about three times larger than the size of a bar code and we have to cram this down to about one third of its size," Tour said.

Researchers say stores could also use the information for inventory control, which might lower prices. Wal-mart has already expressed an interest in the technology.


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