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The following are my personal picks of the top ten new products shown at Scan-Tech 1997 in Chicago November 4-6, 1997.
This was my fifteenth time hunting for those new gems of automatic ID technology that would qualify for The Adams Top Ten. In ferreting out the Top Ten New Products for Scan-Tech 1997, I do not stop at every booth. I use the eye of a Technical Editor to restrict my stops to those companies that, in my opinion, were showing innovative products. My choice is subjective and my own, however I do use some criteria. Products that show breakthrough technologies get the highest marks. Next, I look for products which establish a trend in the market. Finally, I look for products that offer a great price for their performance. I do include prototype products in the list if a working model is shown, and a projected production date is given. With this in mind, here is the Adams’ Top Ten New Products for Scan-Tech 1997.
Number One - OCR Imager
The top spot goes to an very innovative product from the Caere Corporation (now owned by Nuance), OCR at a distance. The system I saw was a prototype system that used Caere’s OCR Imager software and a hand held digital camera. The OCR Imager will be officially unveiled during early 1998. What makes this product so unique is its ability to read single or multi-line images of text or data at a distance and it’s ability to segment the read data into different fields. The product also can read a range of 1D and 2D bar codes too. Welch-Allyn also announced that they will be adding Caere’s OCR at-a-distance software to their ImageTeam 4400 imager.
OCR at a distance offers the promise of automatic identification with existing human-readable markings. It creates a whole new auto ID industry product category, the OCR imager. That’s why it placed number one.
Number Two - Multilingual Bar Code
Number two goes to ABC Multilingual from Advance Bar Code Technology, Inc. ABC Multilingual allows users to print label text not only in English but in more than 30 other languages. Advance Bar Code Technology, Inc. shared the Strandware booth because Strandware will be offering a multilingual version of its popular Label Matrix bar code label printing software using ABC Multilingual.
ABC Multilingual allows the user to switch into any one of 30 languages and type text using a pop-up keyboard window. You type by using a mouse to click on the desired key. Currently most all western and eastern European languages, and Arabic are supported with Asian languages added in 1998. This product accomplished multilingual text within standard English Windows 95. That means ABC Multilingual is primarily targeted to the English-speaking world that do not use non-English versions of Windows.
The expanding need to produce bar code product labels with non-English text and the fact that this is the first multilingual text program specifically designed for the bar code label market earned this product the number two spot.
Number Three - Casio PA-2100
Number 3 goes to the Casio PA-2100 handheld pen-based computer from Casio Manufacturing Corporation. Casio Manufacturing Corporation is a separate division of Casio which specializes in industrial computer products. This was the first time Casio Manufacturing exhibited at an automatic identification show.
The PA-2100 includes a touch screen with hand print recognition like most pen-based computers. It comes with 16 Mb of ROM and 8 Mb RAM with a 80 MHz processor and Windows CE…still rather standard. What sets this product apart are two other aspects. It comes with built-in voice recognition that allows commands to be spoken, and its list price is $800. The product also includes a port specifically designed for bar code readers too.
It is the first pen-based industrial computer with voice recognition to sell for under $1000 and that’s why it received number 3.
Number Four - WaveLAN
Number four goes to the WaveLAN fully IEEE 802.11-compliant PC Card from Lucent Technologies. The product is targeted to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to be included it their wireless LAN products.
The OEM PC Card provides 2Mbps throughput and includes a 2.4 GHz Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS) radio and an IEEE 802.11 MAC controller with a standard type 2 PC Card interface. The card includes two standard antenna connection that enable a selection of internal or external antennas. The system provides for roaming between cells in the wireless LAN too.
Lucent also announce that Aironet, AMD, Digital Equipment Corporation, Harris Semiconductor, Intermec and Lucent have agreed to provide production units of their wireless LAN products to each other and to an independent testing organization to assure interoperability.
The use of Direct Sequence Spread Spectrum is a departure from the trend up to now in the industry of Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum. The use of DSSS allows for higher throughput and a representative of Lucent said they have plans to introduce a version of the card with a 10 Mbps speed next year.
This product earns the number 4 because it is the first IEEE 802.11-compliant product with roaming capability introduced since the standard was adopted.
Number Five - Hand-Held Imager Reader
The number five spot goes to the THIR-3000 CCD hand-held imager reader for linear and 2D bar code from Tohken Company, Ltd. The scanner extremely snappy in its ability to switch between linear and 2D bar codes and decode them.
Because the THIR-3000 uses a CCD imager, it can read linear and two dimensional bar codes regardless of the orientation of the code. The product uses software licensed from Omniplanar in combination with a powerful microprocessor built into the handle of the scanner to provide fully decoded data as output. The product shown handled UPC/EAN, Code 39, Interleave 2 of 5, CODABAR, Code 128, DataMatrix, MaxiCode, QR Code and PDF-417.
Besides the snappy switching between 1D and 2D codes, what earned this CCD imager the number 5 spot is its list price…$1200. That was the price of a 1D laser scanner only 4 years ago and portends a trend that will give laser scanners a run for the money in a few years.
Number Six - Zebra Internet Product Support System
Coming in at number six is more of a service rather than a product. It is the Zebra Internet Product (ZIP) Support system, an on-line case-based reasoning program that answers technical questions about products from Zebra Technologies. The service is accessible though Zebra’s Web site (www.zebra.com) or directly at support.zebra.com. ZIP Support uses an artificial intelligence search engine that integrates with Zebra’s existing customer support database. Since ZIP Support tracks user’s questions and responses, Zebra engineers can update and refine the system based on new types of inquires and clarify the way existing information is presented. If the answer isn’t found in the ZIP database, users can email Zebra’s tech support and get an answer within 24 hours. The answer is then added to the database.
While an on-line expert system support service is not new in the general computer industry, it is extremely innovated in the automatic identification industry. Such a system is accessible 24 hours a day and is a great service to users of products with a global installed base. With the differences between price and performance of competing bar code printers narrowing, ZIP Support keeps Zebra at the forefront of the label printing pack. That’s why ZIP Support captured number 6.
Number Seven - RFID Tag Portable Terminal
Number 8 goes to the Memor2000RFID Tag portable terminal from Minec Systems AB. This extremely small (200 grams including battery) handheld terminal has the ability to read and write RFID tags up to 5 cm away. Currently the terminal operates with low frequency tags (125 KHz) like those offered by Mikron, Philips, Sokymat, Temic, Gemplus, Metget, EM Microelectronic Marin, or ISO-Compliant FDX-B tags. Representatives of Minec said that mid frequency tag (13.56 MHz) reading and writing will be added by the time you read this article.
The Memor2000RFID Tag portable terminal is the smallest terminal capable of reading and writing RFID tags and that’s why it gets the number 7 spot.
Number Eight - CyberWatch
TrueFace CyberWatch Logon 95 from Miros gets the number 8 spot. This product allows any image capture camera to become the passkey into any Windows 95 computer system. All you do is smile at the camera and the computer is accessible. No passwords to remember. The software is downloadable from the Miros web site for $59.95 and will work with most video conference cameras.
This biometric product get the number 8 spot for its outstanding price. It will allow more people to come in contact with biometrics which should spark more interest in the technology.
Number Nine - Age Verification System
The IDentiScan age verification system from The IdentiScan Company gets the number nine position for its innovative solution to the "due diligence" requirement for sale of tobacco and alcohol products. The product reads the age from the magnetic strip on driver licenses and gives a quick "go/ no go" indication based on the age for the purchase of the product. IDentiScan provides an affirmative defense against accusation of sales to underage buyers and helps protect the store against accidentally being caught in a police sting operation. The transactions are archived to a simple receipt printer of to a PC for storage.
IdentiScan gets number 9 for its innovative solution to a growing potential legal problem for any retail store selling tobacco or alcohol.
Number Ten - Multijet Plus
Number 10 goes to Multijet Plus from Imaging Technologies Inc. (ITI), the first Windows 95 ink jet printing system. The system uses the Windows 95 platform to manage on-line printing of bar codes, logos and alphanumeric messages directly onto corrugated containers.
Its use of an open architecture network system based on Windows 95 greatly simplifies the integration of Multijet Plus into the existing computer systems of manufacturers. That’s why I pick Multijet Plus as number 10.