A British firm is to develop radio tags that could shorten queues at the supermarket, writes John Stansell.

The first licence for the technology that will add up supermarket shoppers' bills at checkouts without their having to unpack their trolley has been granted to the British-based computer firm ICL.

Tiny microchip barcodes can identify and price every item in a couple of seconds as the goods are wheeled under an electronic arch - similar to those used as security doorways at airports.

The technology will also protect against shoplifters, as any item concealed within a pocket, shopping basket or tucked into another package, will be identified and automatically added to the bill.

The same barcode system could be used for monitoring the movements of people in and out of buildings for security purposes : hospitals are suggested as a likely area to benefit.

The electronic technology, first revealed in January this year, combines a microchip and a radio antenna into a "label" no bigger than a current barcode. The labels can simply be stuck or printed on to goods. When these are passed through an archway fitted with three reading heads, a computer identifies them by recognizing a unique code stored on the chip's memory. The computer not only records their prices but also alerts a stock-control program that an item has been sold. In its prototype form, the technology can read 50 items a second.

Ed Turner, manager of ICL Retail Systems, believes the advent of "Supertag" technology will be as significant as was the introduction of the barcode.

The Sunday Times, July 10, 1998

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