Skip to Content

Wireless Stockroom

Logistics

It’s a Wal-Mart executive’s dream: an inventory system that knows just how many cans of chicken soup are sitting on the shelves and provides a real-time picture of when they arrive from the factory and depart in shoppers’ baskets. The first field test of such a system is about to begin.

The likely test bed: a retail warehouse in Tulsa, OK. The technology: tiny versions of the toll-paying “radio tags” found on many car windshields. This October, researchers from MIT’s Auto-ID Center will affix these tags to forklift-sized pallets of products. Tag readers on warehouse shelves will log the movements of arriving and departing pallets; this information will be relayed via the Internet to retail headquarters and manufacturers (see “Beyond the Bar Code,” TR March 2001).

Sponsored by major retailers and manufacturers, the test will extend to tracking individual cans and boxes by next April. This move will be enabled by a new breed of tag costing just pennies each. These new tags, now being prototyped at MIT, will exploit some of the smallest silicon chips ever used.

The potential payoff: a level of inventory monitoring not possible with today’s bar code technology, which tracks the movements of product types, not individual items. Bar codes save businesses billions every year; wireless alternatives may save billions more by boosting efficiency and reducing theft, oversupplies and shortages, says David Weil, a professor of economics at Boston University.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Workers disinfect the street outside Shijiazhuang Railway Station
Workers disinfect the street outside Shijiazhuang Railway Station

Why China is still obsessed with disinfecting everything

Most public health bodies dealing with covid have long since moved on from the idea of surface transmission. China’s didn’t—and that helps it control the narrative about the disease’s origins and danger.

individual aging affects covid outcomes concept
individual aging affects covid outcomes concept

Anti-aging drugs are being tested as a way to treat covid

Drugs that rejuvenate our immune systems and make us biologically younger could help protect us from the disease’s worst effects.

Europe's AI Act concept
Europe's AI Act concept

A quick guide to the most important AI law you’ve never heard of

The European Union is planning new legislation aimed at curbing the worst harms associated with artificial intelligence.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.