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3/1/2006
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Wal-Mart Tests Sensor Networks In Supercenters

Integrating sensor technology to monitor temperatures with a sophisticated RFID-based network will let Wal-Mart provide higher-quality produce and fresher foods on store shelves.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it's experimenting with sensor technology this year, pursuing two "proof-of-concepts" that would speed products to shelves and provide customers with better quality produce.

Integrating sensor technology to monitor temperatures with a sophisticated radio frequency (RFID) technology network would enable Wal-Mart to maintain quality produce and fresh foods on store shelves. "Think about bananas," said Carolyn Walton, Wal-Mart's vice president of IT, during at panel discussion at RFID World 2006 Wednesday. "I'll bet you didn't know what happens along that journey."

A crate of bananas arrives at distribution centers ripened by being exposed to nitrogen. Wal-Mart wants to find a way with sensor technology to ensure bananas on store shelves at Supercenters are the perfect ripeness for customers. The mega-retailer would integrate sensors with radio frequency identification technology.

Wal-Mart wants access to the data that identifies where the box has been on its journey, how long it took and exactly how much nitrogen it needs to reach the shelf at the perfect ripeness. The customer will have a premium quality product and Wal-Mart will have to markdown or throw away less food.

Wal-Mart, however, isn't the only grocery chain reviewing sensor networks to better manage the cold chain to protect food quality and safety. Randy Dunn, national director of RFID at ADT Security Services Inc., a Tyco division, is working on a similar project with an unnamed California-based supermarket. "It's all about maintaining the quality of food." Dunn said in an interview.

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