Friday, October 03, 2008

RFID for libraries: HF or UHF? (2)

Finally! With the European tender wrapped up, Autocheck Systems chosen as our partner, our RFID project is finally on its way. Now I can share a little more on the technology choice, following up on a post from, *cough*, one year ago.

When we started preparing, it looked like UHF had great potential to overcome some of the shortcomings of HF. To check whether this would work in practice, we organized a test in our stacks with UHF gear together with one of the major vendors. The test looked specifically at speed and reliability of inventory with a hand-held device. Unfortunately, the test resulted in a muddled answer: UHF showed great potential indeed, but needed more finetuning to get consistent results. Meanwhile, other HF vendors were showing that they were still able to tweak their systems further to reach speeds that, although not as high as UHF's, were still closing the gap to the point where reading with a hand-held was becoming notably faster than checking by eye.

Because of this, we decided not to specify HF or UHF in the tender. Instead, we asked for vendors to specify the performance of their system in terms of speed and accuracy for three scenarios. The lower the speed and the higher the accuracy, the more points could be earned, calculated on a logarithmic scale, starting from zero at 98% accuracy and a different number of seconds for each scenario, via hundreds or so for expected HF speeds to thousands for UHF.

To prevent a vendor bluffing, these numbers would need to be proven in a trial setup, failing which would lead to automatic exclusion. You could say that we tested the trust the vendors had in their systems.

Now I obviously can't give out details of the bids, but here's the general outcome. UHF vendors scored well, but at a relatively high price. And some - though not all! - HF vendors wrote in with a performance higher than expected for HF, though still below the UHF figures. The clear winner, Autocheck, was one of these high-performing HF vendors. They scored best on the combination of high HF performance with a very decent pricetag (needless to say, they were able to prove their performance figures).

So, an interesting outcome, not quite what we expected. A side effect is that it changed my opinion on the European tendering process. Yes, it is tedious, bureaucratic and can lead to unexpected results. But by tendering for functional requirements, rather than for a specific technology, we actually ended up with a good deal. That it was not what we expected is all the better. The trick is to properly investigate what you want and specify that, rather than how you want it done.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Selfportrait with legal document

Finally, we're almost there with our BDP. I hope that I can 'zip up the kimono' (*) on our RFID plans (and imminent execution) in just a few more days...

(*) Steve Jobs' words on being allowed to visit Xerox PARC.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

We have a tender!

Quite a long time ago I started what I hoped would be a series on UHF vs HF RFID. That proved most optimistic, and the real world came in the way.

However, after a *lot* of work the past weeks and months, which I could not write about - oh the horror - I can safely announce that we have sent our Tender Request off to TED (Tenders European Daily). This is the followup to an earlier pre-announcement we made on TED - which is handy, because having pre-announced, we can shave off some time off the procedure that follows. Unfortunately, not much time to write about it now - but if you're interested, keep an eye on TED for the publication.

And what came of the HF vs UHF question? In the end, we decided to specify on functionality rather than choosing ourselves, leaving it to the companies to propose the best system for our wishes. In our quality demands, we do value speed and reliability with a formula which multiplies the squared values for these. This makes for an interesting challenge, we hope - a functioning UHF system that lives up to the expectations could earn a *lot* of points, but it would need to be both fast and reliable for that. And the values need to be proven in a proof of concept.

More later... interesting times!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Chişinău (Moldova) - National Library

With all the innovation we're working on, it's hard to remember that the library world has many facets. This is a blast from the past. Not just the picture; check out the description of the bureaucracy around obtaining a book in the flickr page. Library 1.0, it seems so long ago.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

A virtual library in Urbino, Italy

I've been having some wonderful time off in Italy with my wife (flickr set) and, as a sign that I am to return to my working life, the television news today made a big deal of a new Virtual Library in Urbino. I've looked for a web site but found none, the library may very well have one but my italian is still pretty rudimentary. But luckily, this blog posting has some pictures.

There was a big event in the village, the ciaspolada, and the family made sure to not miss a single bit of coverage, hence I saw an unusual amount of tv news (of dubious quality) today. They all made a big deal of the interface, which is indeed interesting: fully gesture-based. You either sit or stand in front of a wall, on which an image of an ancient library (leather bound volumes) is projected, and by gesturing wildly with your arms, you can take a book from a shelf, and the flip through it. I didn't see any library staff interviewed, apart from the interaction designer, whose name I sadly can't recall now.

All old manuscripts of course, at least for the demo. As a library professional I would be interested in the approach to the digitization to these works, as from this coverage I have the impression that they were scanned cover to cover. We know that costs an arm and a leg, so which selection criteria were applied? Also, no mention of how to find a book in this library apart from the pretty but pretty useless picture of the bookshelves, or the amount of calories browsing takes with the many wide arm movements.

But still, way to go, Urbino! And if someone could point me to a website I'd be most grateful.