RFID Reader for the Oxfam Curiosity Shop

Over the last 6 weeks a team of us from ToTEm have been rapidly producing a set of three RFID readers for the Oxfam Curiosity Shop, a popup shop in Selfridges in London that opens today. This Oxfam shop is entirely stocked with celebrity donations and vintage items, and 35 of the items are tagged with RFID tags. Upon scanning the RFID tag with our Reader, a video tale pops up on screens in the shop, told by the person who donated the item.

This system was trialled prototypically at a previous Totem/Oxfam event with excellent results, so for this outing we took the existing hardware, streamlined and repackaged it and scaled up the software to deal with several readers and many more videos. Some pictures of the resulting reader device are here on my Flickr stream.

detail of the illuminated part of the reader

How it Works
The basic principal is that an RFID sensor detects the unique ID number of an RFID tag, which is sent via bluetooth (radio) to the video software running on a computer behind the scenes. Meanwhile a PIC (programmable integrated circuit) chip detects that the sensor has been activated and triggers the clear acrylic part of the reader to glow brightly as feedback for the user. The software (running in Quartz) receives the ID number and finds the video associated with it, sending it to the monitor for playback.

How we Worked
The project has been a real team effort with lecturer Pete Thomas and myself (Roy Shearer) working on the physical design and production, technician Willie Henderson machining the housings, research assistant Mike Shorter programming the interface behaviour, IMD technician Ali Napier and head of product design Jon Rogers working on the software and Angelina Karpovich producing the video content. In order to deal with the tight timescale and the fact that we all have various other responsibilities, we pioneered an entirely text email based Gantt chart system. This basically consisted of an ever-evolving to do list assigned to dates and people! I actually think this worked surprisingly well, as it was immediate and easy to refer to across all our phones and computers, regardless of software. I won’t pretend that things weren’t missed, but I still think these were fewer than if we had used a more involved organisational tool. Lo-fi methods win for nimbleness yet again, I’d say.

The readers are now in use by the staff in the Oxfam Curiosity Shop, not to mention Annie Lennox, so do go and have a go – you have until the 14th April. Stay tuned for some video hopefully and a bit of coverage from today’s opening.

Annie Lennox and the reader

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