We are currently testing a magic wand (aka RFID wand) from FE Technologies. I have also tested the one from 3M and seen one from Bibliotheca and one from QLS (which was made by a Scandinavian company whose name I cannot remember).
It is interesting how the different companies have designed their magic wands.
Bibliotheca Wireless Inventory Wand
Bibliotheca have had their wand around for a while and you can see that in the design. Bibliotheca’s design incorporates a giant battery pack which has a strap so that you can carry it like a handbag (if your handbag was filled with bricks). It then has a funky little PDA containing the software and a paddle that you wave at the books to detect it. Depending on which way you hold the paddle determines how accurate the scan will be, using the flat side gives you a wider scan, the sharp side (or even the point) gives you a more detailed scan.
Pros: PDA means that it could easily be installed on any kind of wireless computer device (or a laptop if it comes down to it). The software is easily updated by docking the PDA. Also, the wand is quite long which means you don’t have to bend down to reach books on the bottom shelf or reach high to get ones at the top, you just wave it like a light saber.
Cons: Big-arse heavy bulky battery pack.
(note: I didn’t actually get to use this as Bibliotheca were not currently supporting my tag format, the usability of the program did seem quite logical though…even if it was in German due to being the test model)
3M Handheld Inventory Tracker /Digital Library Assistant
This was the first RFID wand I had used and I was suitably impressed at the time. It is compact, light, and quite easy to use. It is an all-in-one unit that does not need any external battery support or even an external computing device (ie a PDA). You install a program onto a computer, upload a file of the items you wish to find to that location, it then pulls the items into the RFID wand and away you go. The file format is simple, comma seperated file with 4 options. First one was the barcode. Third was the call number. Fourth was the title. The second allowed you to enter something ‘secondary’, ie, the word missing if you wanted the device to tell you that the item went ‘beep’ because it was missing. It was a while ago now, but I do remember it being easy.
Pros: Lightweight. Easy to use, the screen was easily visible.
Cons: The size meant that you had to bend to do books on lower shelves and reach up to do higher ones. Battery life wasn’t great (although you could have multiple batteries and they were very easy to change).
FE Technologies Portable Scanning Unit
This is my most recent device for testing and is quite new to FE, I don’t know if they’ve actually sold any off yet and I know that they are very interested in the results of my testing to find out how to improve the unit. The unit itself is a swish looking black box with a screen. Attached to this box is an RFID antenna that looks like a handle with a squared off piece of metal attached. The box is operated by means of a special pen (which retails at $75 so I warned all of my staff that they’d better not lose it). The device itself contains a computer, battery and small RFID reader inside the black box (I asked). It can be set to run through a wireless network and will automatically download the update files that you ask it to. This was the only one of the units which I have seen which will actually update the status of items that it wands (if you want it to). For example, I could use this unit to change the security status of my DVDs to ‘secure’ if I was so inclined. It also works very fast, a heap faster than the 3M one did.
It operates in an interesting way. It has a dump file of all of the LMS items in it and uploads updates to the device overnight. When it scans items, it checks this dump file to see if the item is included and, if we wanted it to, it checks to see if the item is within a certain call number range, location or collection. It works with all/any of our collection codes too, very fancy (also very useless for our library service which has floating collections so nothing is really located in only one spot). It will also alert you to tags which are not ‘in’ the dump file. This would mean that they had previously been withdrawn and were still sitting on shelf. You can turn this off.
You upload items into it by means of a CSV file, similar to the 3M method it allows you to enter a reason that the item is being detected, unlike the 3M method you don’t enter any title details, these come from the local dump file.
Pros: Fast and accurate. The antenna/aerial allows you to stand at one height and scan items on the top/bottom shelves. The thin design allows you to ‘shove’ the antenna between books to get greater scanability on thin items (where the RFID tags shield each other to a greater degree). Also, being in production means that if I have any issues at all then I ring them and they alter the software for us…I love testing.
Cons: Still quite heavy, similar to the Bibliotheca model (although not that cumbersome). We got around this by placing the device on a small trolley. Also, the device has no way of attaching a keyboard, mouse or, well, anything. This means that the only methods of altering stuff on there is either via the annoying Windows On-Screen Keyboard or via a network. If they gave it a USB key and allowed me to upload the CSV file from there, I would be happier.