US20140043162A1 - Inventory system for the prevention of tobacco product theft - Google Patents

Inventory system for the prevention of tobacco product theft Download PDF

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Publication number
US20140043162A1
US20140043162A1 US13/964,916 US201313964916A US2014043162A1 US 20140043162 A1 US20140043162 A1 US 20140043162A1 US 201313964916 A US201313964916 A US 201313964916A US 2014043162 A1 US2014043162 A1 US 2014043162A1
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Prior art keywords
article
channel
display device
configured
shelf
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Abandoned
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US13/964,916
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Michael Siciliano
Michele P. Burns
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Michael Siciliano
Michele P. Burns
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Priority to US201261682439P priority Critical
Application filed by Michael Siciliano, Michele P. Burns filed Critical Michael Siciliano
Priority to US13/964,916 priority patent/US20140043162A1/en
Publication of US20140043162A1 publication Critical patent/US20140043162A1/en
Application status is Abandoned legal-status Critical

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    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A47FURNITURE; DOMESTIC ARTICLES OR APPLIANCES; COFFEE MILLS; SPICE MILLS; SUCTION CLEANERS IN GENERAL
    • A47FSPECIAL FURNITURE, FITTINGS, OR ACCESSORIES FOR SHOPS, STOREHOUSES, BARS, RESTAURANTS OR THE LIKE; PAYING COUNTERS
    • A47F1/00Racks for dispensing merchandise; Containers for dispensing merchandise
    • A47F1/04Racks or containers with arrangements for dispensing articles, e.g. by means of gravity or springs
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A47FURNITURE; DOMESTIC ARTICLES OR APPLIANCES; COFFEE MILLS; SPICE MILLS; SUCTION CLEANERS IN GENERAL
    • A47FSPECIAL FURNITURE, FITTINGS, OR ACCESSORIES FOR SHOPS, STOREHOUSES, BARS, RESTAURANTS OR THE LIKE; PAYING COUNTERS
    • A47F1/00Racks for dispensing merchandise; Containers for dispensing merchandise
    • A47F1/04Racks or containers with arrangements for dispensing articles, e.g. by means of gravity or springs
    • A47F1/12Racks or containers with arrangements for dispensing articles, e.g. by means of gravity or springs dispensing from the side of an approximately horizontal stack
    • A47F1/125Racks or containers with arrangements for dispensing articles, e.g. by means of gravity or springs dispensing from the side of an approximately horizontal stack with an article-pushing device
    • AHUMAN NECESSITIES
    • A47FURNITURE; DOMESTIC ARTICLES OR APPLIANCES; COFFEE MILLS; SPICE MILLS; SUCTION CLEANERS IN GENERAL
    • A47FSPECIAL FURNITURE, FITTINGS, OR ACCESSORIES FOR SHOPS, STOREHOUSES, BARS, RESTAURANTS OR THE LIKE; PAYING COUNTERS
    • A47F3/00Show cases or show cabinets
    • A47F3/002Devices for protection against sunlight or theft
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65DCONTAINERS FOR STORAGE OR TRANSPORT OF ARTICLES OR MATERIALS, e.g. BAGS, BARRELS, BOTTLES, BOXES, CANS, CARTONS, CRATES, DRUMS, JARS, TANKS, HOPPERS, FORWARDING CONTAINERS; ACCESSORIES, CLOSURES, OR FITTINGS THEREFOR; PACKAGING ELEMENTS; PACKAGES
    • B65D83/00Containers or packages with special means for dispensing contents
    • B65D83/08Containers or packages with special means for dispensing contents for dispensing thin flat articles in succession
    • B65D83/12Containers or packages with special means for dispensing contents for dispensing thin flat articles in succession for dispensing tickets or tokens
    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q10/00Administration; Management
    • G06Q10/08Logistics, e.g. warehousing, loading, distribution or shipping; Inventory or stock management, e.g. order filling, procurement or balancing against orders
    • G06Q10/087Inventory or stock management, e.g. order filling, procurement, balancing against orders
    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07DHANDLING OF COINS OR VALUABLE PAPERS, e.g. TESTING, SORTING BY DENOMINATIONS, COUNTING, DISPENSING, CHANGING OR DEPOSITING
    • G07D11/00Devices accepting coins; Devices accepting, dispensing, sorting or counting valuable papers
    • G07D11/20Controlling or monitoring the operation of devices; Data handling
    • G07D11/28Setting of parameters; Software updates
    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07DHANDLING OF COINS OR VALUABLE PAPERS, e.g. TESTING, SORTING BY DENOMINATIONS, COUNTING, DISPENSING, CHANGING OR DEPOSITING
    • G07D11/00Devices accepting coins; Devices accepting, dispensing, sorting or counting valuable papers
    • G07D11/20Controlling or monitoring the operation of devices; Data handling
    • G07D11/32Record keeping
    • G07D11/34Monitoring the contents of devices, e.g. the number of stored valuable papers
    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07FCOIN-FREED OR LIKE APPARATUS
    • G07F11/00Coin-freed apparatus for dispensing, or the like, discrete articles
    • G07F11/002Coin-freed apparatus for dispensing, or the like, discrete articles where the dispenser is part of a centrally controlled network of dispensers
    • GPHYSICS
    • G07CHECKING-DEVICES
    • G07FCOIN-FREED OR LIKE APPARATUS
    • G07F9/00Details other than those peculiar to special kinds or types of apparatus
    • G07F9/02Devices for alarm or indication, e.g. when empty; Advertising arrangements in coin-freed apparatus
    • G07F9/026Devices for alarm or indication, e.g. when empty; Advertising arrangements in coin-freed apparatus for alarm, monitoring and auditing in vending machines or means for indication, e.g. when empty
    • GPHYSICS
    • G08SIGNALLING
    • G08BSIGNALLING OR CALLING SYSTEMS; ORDER TELEGRAPHS; ALARM SYSTEMS
    • G08B13/00Burglar, theft or intruder alarms
    • G08B13/02Mechanical actuation
    • G08B13/14Mechanical actuation by lifting or attempted removal of hand-portable articles
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65DCONTAINERS FOR STORAGE OR TRANSPORT OF ARTICLES OR MATERIALS, e.g. BAGS, BARRELS, BOTTLES, BOXES, CANS, CARTONS, CRATES, DRUMS, JARS, TANKS, HOPPERS, FORWARDING CONTAINERS; ACCESSORIES, CLOSURES, OR FITTINGS THEREFOR; PACKAGING ELEMENTS; PACKAGES
    • B65D2203/00Decoration means, markings, information elements, contents indicators
    • B65D2203/06Arrangements on packages concerning bar-codes
    • GPHYSICS
    • G08SIGNALLING
    • G08BSIGNALLING OR CALLING SYSTEMS; ORDER TELEGRAPHS; ALARM SYSTEMS
    • G08B13/00Burglar, theft or intruder alarms
    • G08B13/02Mechanical actuation
    • G08B13/14Mechanical actuation by lifting or attempted removal of hand-portable articles
    • G08B13/1481Mechanical actuation by lifting or attempted removal of hand-portable articles with optical detection

Abstract

A tobacco product display for monitoring inventory and aiding in theft prevention. A position sensor tracks the quantity of products on the display. A scanner, such as a barcode reader, tracks the identification of products removed from the display. A proximity and identity sensor detects authorized removal of products from the display and identifies persons removing the products. An alarm is triggered in the case of unauthorized product removal. Product inventory information is printed, sent to a network, computing device, smart phone, or similar device to alert authorized personnel of inventory reports and alarms.

Description

    CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION
  • This application claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 61/682,439 filed on Aug. 13, 2012 titled “Point of Sale and Inventory System and Apparatus for the Prevention of Item Theft,” which is incorporated by reference herein in its entirety.
  • FIELD OF THE INVENTION
  • The present invention relates to the product vending and, more particularly, to an inventory and dispensation system for the prevention of tobacco product theft.
  • BACKGROUND
  • Cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and other tobacco products are popular items often offered for sale by convenience stores, grocery stores, and other retail outlets. Although tobacco products provide a large source of revenue to retail outlets, they are also a popular theft target due to their relatively high price and small size. Additionally, since the nicotine found in tobacco products is addictive, a strong desire to acquire such products may also promote theft. Being that tobacco products are common objects of theft, the risk of lost revenue to tobacco retailers is great. A particular retail outlet may offer dozens of different brands of cigarettes, which often equates to thousands of individual packs stored on the premises at any given moment. This creates a potentially large liability for store owners. Therefore, the ever-present task of theft prevention is a burden shared by tobacco retailers.
  • It is estimated that up to 40% of convenience store theft is partly attributable to loss of small, yet potentially valuable, items such as tobacco products and cigarette packs. Since packs are typically stored behind the check-out counter, away from the reach of the typical shopper, it is accepted that employee theft accounts for much of these losses.
  • To steal cigarette packs, employees have devised different schemes to facilitate theft. A prime example occurs when an accomplice purchases a single pack, and the employee hands off multiple packs to his accomplice.
  • In order to deter employees from stealing tobacco products, inventory tracking is employed by businesses to reduce shortages. However, when a store has thousands of individual packs of varying brands to track, the task of manually maintaining inventory from employee shift to employee shift becomes an almost insurmountable task. Even with a relatively efficient system in place, a manual count of such a large inventory typically takes 15 to 30 minutes to complete. With multiple employees and multiple shifts in a day, the cost incurred to pay wages attributable to inventory tracking is substantial, and may even exceed the cost of the loss prevented by such manual accounting practices.
  • Typical point of sale (POS) systems utilize electronic methods of inventory tracking based on information input into the POS system, but there are typically no physical measures in place that appreciably reduce theft. In particular, a theoretical inventory is typically tracked, but the actual physical inventory is not tracked by the POS system. Manually keeping a physical inventory is costly, time consuming, and prone to inaccuracy, yet not well suited to prevent employee theft, as tobacco displays are typically unsecured shelving units that are easily accessible by any employee.
  • A fully automated system, such as a vending machine, is not an appropriate solution to such a problem since the nature of tobacco products is subject to regulations regarding the age of the purchaser. Manual age verification is a vital aspect of sales of such goods. Additionally, such systems often do not give customers cash change, or at least can not provide large amounts of cash change. Also, cigarette vending machines are illegal in some jurisdictions. Lastly, vending machines are bulky—typically being too large for on-counter or behind-the-counter placement.
  • Therefore, there is a need for a secure tobacco product display case that tracks tobacco product inventory. There is an additional need to provide a tobacco product display that verifies and records tobacco product removal. There is also an additional need to provide a tobacco product display that identifies the particular person responsible for removing a product package from the display. There is an additional need to provide a tobacco product display that triggers an alarm in the case of an unauthorized product removal. Finally, there is a need for a tobacco product display that shows the actual inventory of the tobacco products in the display.
  • SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
  • The present invention is directed to an article display device. The display device is a shelf designed for the display of tobacco products. A pair of laterally spaced dividers disposed approximately perpendicular to the shelf define an article-receptive channel, preferably spaced to accept a plurality of cigarette packs.
  • In one embodiment, a slot defined by the shelf is present, and is oriented substantially parallel with the pair of laterally spaced dividers. The pressure bearing surface engages the slot and travels along a path defined by the slot.
  • The plurality of cigarette packs is arranged to form a column. A front barrier proximate a first end of the article-receptive channel captures a column of articles placed within the article-receptive channel. A pressure bearing surface with the article-receptive channel is disposed to push the column of articles towards the front barrier.
  • A scanner proximate the first end of the article-receptive channel is configured to detect an article's identification when an article is removed from the article-receptive channel. The scanner is preferably a barcode reader and/or camera.
  • A display terminal with the article display device is configured to display the quantity of articles populating the article-receptive channel.
  • A position sensor in communication with the pressure bearing surface is configured to detect the position of the pressure bearing surface within in the article-receptive channel. The quantity of articles populating the article-receptive channel is proportional to the position sensor's position in the article-receptive channel. In one embodiment, the position sensor comprises a linear magnetic potentiometer.
  • Also, an identification sensor is configured to detect a person near the display device. In a related embodiment, the identification sensor is a wireless receiver configured to detect and identify an identification tag. The identification sensor is, in yet another related embodiment, a radio frequency identification tag reader and the identification tag is an RFID tag that is identifiable by the radio frequency identification tag reader. Preferably, the RFID tag is a bracelet.
  • Memory with the display device is configured to record the identification of a proximate RFID tag when an article is removed from the article-receptive channel. An alarm is configured to trigger when an article is removed from the article-receptive channel in the absence of a proximate RFID tag. The alarm signal is communicated to an electronic network.
  • The invention also contemplates a numeric display with the display device that is configured to indicate a quantity of articles residing in the article-receptive channel.
  • In another embodiment, an article display device includes a shelf comprising a pair of laterally spaced dividers that are disposed approximately perpendicular to the shelf and spaced to define a channel having a size and dimension to hold a column of cigarette packs. A front barrier proximate a first end of the channel is configured to capture the column of cigarette packs placed within the channel. Additionally, a plow is biased to push the column of cigarette packs towards the front barrier. A position sensor configured to detect the plow's position within the channel is in communication with the plow. A scanner configured to identify cigarette packs removed from the channel is proximate the first end of the channel. The scanner is a barcode reader in some embodiments. Additionally, a radio frequency identification tag reader is configured to detect a proximate RFID tag, while an alarm is configured to trigger when a cigarette pack is removed from the channel in the absence of the proximate RFID tag. In a related embodiment of the invention, the alarm signal is communicated to an electronic network.
  • In yet another embodiment of the invention, the display device further comprises a computing device that records a log each time a cigarette pack is removed from the channel. This log comprises: the identification of any proximate RFID tags, the identification of a person associated with the proximate RFID tag, identification of the cigarette pack removed, identification of channel from where the cigarette pack was removed, the timestamp marking when the cigarette pack was removed from the channel, and the date the cigarette pack was removed from the channel.
  • In an alternate embodiment, an article display device comprises a shelf defining a channel having a size and dimension to hold a column of cigarette packs, and a plow with the shelf that is biased to push the column of cigarette packs towards a front edge of the shelf. A radio frequency identification tag reader with the shelf is configured to detect a proximate RFID tag, and an alarm is configured to trigger when a cigarette pack is removed from the shelf in the absence of the proximate RFID tag. In another embodiment, the position sensor is in communication with the plow, and the position sensor is configured to detect plow position to indicate the quantity of cigarette packs in the channel. A scanner proximate the first end of the channel is configured to identify any cigarette packs removed from the channel.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • For a fuller understanding of the invention, reference is made to the following detailed description, taken in connection with the accompanying drawings illustrating various embodiments of the present invention, in which:
  • FIG. 1 illustrates one embodiment of the article display case;
  • FIG. 2 illustrates one embodiment of a shelf of the article display case having a product identification scanner;
  • FIG. 3 illustrates an alternate embodiment of the article display case illustrated by FIG. 1;
  • FIG. 4 illustrates an article being removed from the shelf of FIG. 2; and
  • FIG. 5 illustrates a triggered alarm of the article display case of FIG. 1.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION
  • In the Summary above and in the Detailed Description, reference is made to particular features (including method steps) of the invention. It is to be understood that the disclosure of the invention in this specification includes all possible combinations of such particular features. For example, where a particular feature is disclosed in the context of a particular aspect or embodiment of the invention, that feature can also be used, to the extent possible, in combination with and/or in the context of other particular aspects and embodiments of the invention, and in the invention generally.
  • The term “comprises” is used herein to mean that other ingredients, steps, etc. are optionally present. When reference is made herein to a method comprising two or more defined steps, the steps can be carried in any order or simultaneously (except where the context excludes that possibility), and the method can include one or more steps which are carried out before any of the defined steps, between two of the defined steps, or after all of the defined steps (except where the context excludes that possibility).
  • In this section, the present invention will be described more fully, in which preferred embodiments of the invention are detailed. This invention may, however, be embodied in many different forms and should not be construed as limited to the embodiments set forth herein. Rather, these embodiments are provided so that this disclosure will be thorough and complete, and will convey the scope of the invention to those skilled in the art.
  • In view of the foregoing background, it is therefore an object of the present invention to provide a tobacco product display system that maintains an accurate product inventory and reduces or eliminates theft of tobacco products.
  • This and other objects, features, and advantages in accordance with the present invention are provided by a tobacco display case that maintains real-time electronic inventories, detects the identity of packs removed from the case, and triggers an alarm in the case of unauthorized product removal. This apparatus displays inventory and communicates data to authorized users.
  • Tobacco Product Display Case
  • Referring initially to FIG. 1, the article display case 100 (or “display unit”) is a shelving and product case ideally configured to house and display tobacco products, such as cigarette packs 102. In one embodiment, a frame 104 defines the display unit 100, ideally having panel sections on the top 106, bottom 108, and sides 110. The panel sections are made of at least one of wood, wood composite, plastic, acrylic, metal, wire, and any other material known in the art.
  • The display unit 100 has at least one shelf 112. The shelf is a substantially flat surface on which articles such as tobacco products are placed for storage, display, and easy access. A front barrier 114 prevents products from falling off the shelf 112. The front barrier 114 is a piece of material such as, without exclusion, metal, wood, or acrylic that creates a lip, wall, bar, or other barrier that is situated to prevent a column of products from being pushed off the shelf 112. For example, if a shelf 112 slopes downward, the front barrier 114 provides a barrier that captures a column of products on the shelf 112. The shelf 112 is sized and dimensioned to hold tobacco products having sizes ranging from cigarette packs and cartons, 100's cigarette packs and cartons, chewing tobacco cans, clove cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, and any other tobacco product known in the art.
  • With reference to FIG. 2, to form orderly rows of products, the shelves 112 also have laterally spaced dividers 116 that define an article-receptive channel 118 (or simply “channel”). For example, a shelf 112 for cigarette packs 102 has dividers 116 that are spaced to allow one to place multiple cigarette packs between the dividers 116 to form a column of cigarette packs.
  • Turning again to FIGS. 1 and 2, a pressure bearing surface 120 with each channel 118 provides pressure against products placed in the channel 118. The pressure bearing surface 120, in a preferred embodiment, is a plow. The plow is a movable member that exerts a force on the last product in a channel 118. In one embodiment, a slot 119 that runs substantially parallel to the channel provides a path to guide the plow's travel. The plow forces product towards the front of the shelf 112, so that the product rest upon the front barrier 114. For example, when multiple cigarette packs 102 reside in a channel 118 to form a column of cigarette packs, the plow exerts a force on the last pack of the column, thus forcing the first pack in the column to rest against the front barrier 114. When the front pack is removed from the shelf 112, the pressure exerted on the column by the plow causes the entire column of cigarette packs 102 to shift forward so that the cigarette pack 102 that was second in line rests upon the barrier 114. The pressure exerted by the pressure bearing surface 120 is preferably provided by a spring, but pressure from a ram, pulley, magnet, or gravity is also contemplated.
  • Product Identification Scanner
  • FIGS. 1-5 illustrate a scanner 122 placed proximate the front barrier 114. The scanner 122 optically identifies a product that is removed from the shelf 112. Since a display case 100 would typically hold dozens of different brands of cigarettes, for example, it is cumbersome to keep track of a real-time inventory. Therefore, the present invention automatically records the type and quantity of packs 102 removed from the display case 100 using at least one scanner 122.
  • In a preferred embodiment, the scanner 122 is a barcode reader. The barcode reader employs at least one of a laser, CCD, and camera. For a laser barcode reader, a laser is coupled with a reciprocating mirror or a rotating prism to pan the laser across the bar code. A static laser, however, is also contemplated. The present invention contemplates omni-directional and single line readers. Typically, the intensity of the light reflected from the bar code is detected by a photodiode and related circuitry and/or software configured to recognize barcode patterns.
  • For a CCD array barcode reader, a plurality of charged coupled device sensors measure the intensity of proximate ambient light and translates the light intensity pattern into a voltage intensity pattern that indicates a bar code pattern. Camera-based barcode readers preferably use a camera combined with image processing algorithms to decode the bar code, while a video camera reader uses CCD video cameras arranged in a two dimensional array and can generate a real-time image that indicates the presence and identity of a barcode.
  • In one embodiment of the present invention, a single scanner 122 is placed at an end of a shelf 112, and is positioned to read barcodes or identities of tobacco products pulled from any channel 118 of the shelf 112. In an alternate embodiment, multiple scanners 122 reside on a single shelf 112.
  • In yet another embodiment, the scanner 122 is a digital camera that detects the colors and patterns that are unique to a particular style of tobacco product in order to identify and detect when a tobacco product is removed from a shelf 112.
  • Each time a product is added or removed from the display case 100, the scanner 122 relays signals to a computing device and/or logic circuit so that an accurate real-time inventory is maintained.
  • Display Terminal
  • A display terminal 124 is connected to the display case 100, and as illustrated by FIG. 1, is, in one embodiment, mounted to the display case 100. The display terminal 124 is preferably a tablet computing device (such as an iPad®, Android device, or similar tablet computer) having a touch screen interface and a virtual keyboard input. The display terminal 124 preferably has at least one of a microcontroller, microprocessor, memory, network connections and hardware, and digital storage. However, the display terminal 124 may, in an alternate embodiment, be a display device coupled to a computer, network, or circuit. The display terminal 124 preferably comprises an input device and a display peripheral that indicates the quantity of articles that are shelved on the display case 100. A user interface 125 with the display terminal 124 serves to provide an interface for users to interact with the display case 100, its sensors, and inventory management software. In a preferred embodiment, the user interface 125 is a touch screen interface.
  • When an article is removed from a shelf 112, the scanner 122 or other device detects that an item has been removed and communicates the change to the display terminal so that the inventory shown on the display terminal 124 is updated accordingly. The display terminal 124 is, in another embodiment, a remote computing device (such as a smart phone, laptop, or tablet computer, for example) that wirelessly communicates with the display case 100 and maintains a real-time inventory. Software with a computing device or the display terminal 124 interfaces with the scanner 122 and any other sensor or electronic device with the display case 100.
  • The real-time quantity of products in each channel 118 is displayed on the display terminal 124. For inventory purposes, a user may instantly know the total number of products in the display case 100 and the number of each specific type of product in each individual channel 118. For example, without limitation, upon the sale of a pack of cigarettes 102, an employee removes the desired pack 102 from the case 100. The display terminal 124 and related sensors/electronics with the display case 100 calculates the updated number of cigarettes 102 in stock, and the display terminal 124 is updated and displayed. At a glance, the display terminal 124 conveys the updated inventory of all the cigarettes in the display case 100. Additionally, the touch display terminal 124 is configurable to send inventory reports to a computer, computer network, printer, email, mobile telephone network, and mobile apps.
  • Since differing tobacco products have different dimensions, barcodes, and unique identifiers, the display terminal 124 is programmable so that information related to tobacco products a store offers can be pre-stored in memory or storage of the device. The information associated with products includes at least the: name of product, bar code, product value, product package dimensions, and classification of product. An end user of the system may then simply choose from a list of available products when loading the case 100.
  • Position Sensor
  • The shelf 112 also incorporates a position sensor 126 with each channel 118. The position sensor 126 tracks the position of the pressure bearing surface 120 and communicates this information to an interface connected to the display terminal 124. The position sensor 126 therefore provides an indication of how many cigarette packs 102 are present in a given channel 118. Given the known average size of a product, slider position is used to calculate a real-time inventory of a particular channel 118. As cigarette packs 102 are removed, the position sensor communicates the changed signal to an interface connected to the display terminal 124 so that the inventory values calculated are updated. The position sensor 126 prevents undetected removal of a tobacco product from the display case 100. In a preferred embodiment, there are two primary components in the position sensor: A linear position sensor and an analog to digital converter (ADC). In one embodiment, the position sensor comprises a magnetically controlled potentiometer that translates position into a measurable electrical voltage. The ADC translates this voltage into a digital form that can be read by a computing device.
  • The linear motion magnetic potentiometer (mag-pot) is positioned proximate the channel 118, placed along the same path of travel as the pressure bearing surface 120. A magnet with the pressure bearing surface 120 travels proximate the mag-pot and magnetic forces engage a magnetic wiper with the mag-pot. As the pressure bearing surface 120 and magnet move, the wiper on the mag-pot moves. In one embodiment, the mag-pot has a plurality of electrical connections 128. In one embodiment, the mag-pot is connected to ground at one surface of a resistive element and to a voltage source at an opposing surface. The wiper in the middle dictates a voltage that is directly proportional to the wiper's position along the length of the mag-pot, and it is this signal that is decoded by a computer and ADC circuitry to resolve the number of products residing in a channel 118. One benefit of such a mag-pot is that the resistive elements are largely protected from the environment. Even partial exposure can lead to dust accumulating between the wiper and the resistive element which can cause dropouts and false signals. A non-magnetic linear to rotary potentiometer is also contemplated.
  • The ADC connected to the position sensor 126 measures the raw voltage provided by the mag-pot and translate that signal into a digital format that is read by a digital device such as, for example without limitation, a circuit, computer, or tablet computing device. Even a relatively slow sampling rate ADC is suitable for this application, with a rate of 10,000 samples per second, for example, being adequate for accurate motion detection. Additionally, over a 10 to 12 inch linear travel, an ADC resolution of 10 bits, equates to roughly 10/256 inches (roughly 40 thousandths of an inch), which is of a sufficiently fine resolution to detect the removal of a pack of cigarettes 102 or similarly sized tobacco product and calculate an accurate inventory.
  • Personnel Identification
  • Turning to FIGS. 2 and 4, in one embodiment of the invention, an identification sensor is used to verify the identification of persons that remove articles from the unit 100. In a preferred embodiment, a user identification tag (IDT) 130 is associated with each authorized user of the display case 100. Each user must have an IDT 130 to remove a product from a shelf 112. For example, an IDT 130 may be a swipe card that must be read immediately prior to removing a cigarette pack 102. The removal of the cigarette pack 102 is associated with the user's IDT 130 and recorded. A preferred embodiment of an IDT 130 takes the form of a wearable identification tag such as a bracelet (illustrated), nametag, or fob. Biometric devices, such as fingerprint readers for example, are also contemplated to identify users removing articles from the unit 100.
  • In an example of the preferred, each user wears an IDT 130 bracelet that is unique to the system. The IDT 130 bracelet comprises a radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag or similar wireless non-contact identifier, and the display case 100 comprises a reader to detect the proximity and identification of the IDT 130 bracelet. In this embodiment, a wireless receiver 131 or antenna with the case 100 utilizes radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data for the purposes of automatically identifying and tracking the IDT 130 associated with a user.
  • The IDT's 130 information is stored electronically in a memory and/or storage medium. An integrated circuit stores and processes information, may collect power from the reader signal, and modulates and demodulates radio frequency signals. In one embodiment of a passive IDT 130, the IDT 130 is powered by and read at short ranges via electromagnetic induction. In another embodiment, an active IDT 130 utilizes a battery and transmits a periodic signal to the receiver 131. In yet another embodiment, a battery assisted passive IDT 130 utilizes a local power source that is activated in the presence of a RFID reader. In a preferred embodiment, field programmable IDTs 130 are utilized, but read-only tags are also contemplated.
  • The receiver 131 is preferably an RFID reader that is a Passive Reader Active Tag system, an Active Reader Passive Tag system, or an Active Reader Active Tag system. A Passive Reader Active Tag (PRAT) embodiment comprises a passive reader which only receives radio signals from battery operated active tags (battery operated, transmit only). The Active Reader Passive Tag (ARPT) embodiment comprises an active reader that transmits interrogator signals and receives replies from passive RFID tags. The Active Reader Active Tag (ARAT) embodiment utilizes active tags that interact with interrogator signals sent from the active reader. Lastly, the receiver could also interact with a Battery Assisted Passive (BAP) tag having a battery that powers the return reporting signals.
  • Receivers 131 are installed on the display unit 100 and configured to create a highly defined interrogation zone that is proximate the front of the each shelf 112. This promotes accurate identification of a person that removes a product from the shelf 112.
  • As illustrated by FIG. 5, if a cigarette pack 102 is removed from the unit 100 by a person without an IDT 130 or an unauthorized IDT 130, an alarm 132 is triggered. The alarm 132 is at least one of a visual, audible, textual, and tactile notification. The display terminal 124 is configurable to indicate a state of alarm. In a related embodiment, an alarm notification is transmitted to an authorized recipient. For example, without limitation, when an alarm is triggered, the timestamp of the unauthorized product removal is saved. In a related embodiment, data from audio/video security capture devices connected to a network are saved proximate the timestamp of unauthorized product removal, which serves as proof of an unauthorized product removal.
  • In another example, when a user wearing an authorized IDT 130 bracelet removes an article, such as a pack of cigarettes 102, from the display case 100, a computing device receives a signal indicating wireless detection of the proximate IDT 130 and records, at least: the associated user ID, the identification of the product removed, the shelf ID and channel ID from which it was removed, the time and date of the removal event, and the adjusted inventory of the case 100. Products added to a shelf 112 are similarly tracked.
  • In the example of an employee working a shift, the employee dons an IDT 130 bracelet. The employee accesses a user interface with the display terminal 124 to activate her IDT 130 for that shift. At that point, the IDT 130 is activated and associated with that particular employee. At the end of the shift, the employee logs out, which deauthorizes the IDT 130. This ensures that only IDTs 130 associated with working employees are authorized to have product access.
  • After a work shift is completed, a user may access the user interface 124 of the display terminal 124 and display and print a transaction record and cigarette inventory of the case 100. The display terminal 124 and associated computer records each time a user logs on to the system, and keeps a record of each cigarette pack that is removed. The record includes, inter alia: the time/date stamp the user first accessed the user interface 125 with a corresponding products inventory broken down by channel 118 (i.e. begin shift inventory); the time/date stamp the user last accessed the system with a corresponding product inventory broken down by channel 118 (i.e. end shift inventory); the itemized time/date stamp of each product removed by that user and the product identity, quantity, channel ID, shelf ID, and barcode associated with each product dispensed. This information may be manually reconciled against reports generated by a cash register or point of sale system. In related embodiments, this information is: saved in a local storage device; transmitted to a network; transmitted to an email account; transmitted to a remote computing device such as a tablet, computer, or smartphone.
  • Besides individual user reports, the display terminal 124 is configured to produce an aggregate report that shows every transaction and product added or removed from the display case 100. This is available for a particular shift, day, week, month, year, or customizable time frame.
  • In one embodiment an application (“App”) that is designed for a smart phone (e.g. Android or iPhone) communicates with the display terminal 124 to keep managers or authorized users informed of inventory status and alarm events. Reports are generated, transmitted, and displayed through the App.
  • Many modifications and other embodiments of the invention will come to the mind of one skilled in the art having the benefit of the teachings presented in the foregoing descriptions and the associated drawings. Therefore, it is understood that the invention is not to be limited to the specific embodiments disclosed.

Claims (23)

That which is claimed is:
1. An article display device comprising:
a shelf;
a pair of laterally spaced dividers disposed approximately perpendicular to the shelf, the pair of laterally spaced dividers being spaced to define an article-receptive channel;
a front barrier to capture a column of articles placed within the article-receptive channel, the front barrier located proximate a first end of the article-receptive channel;
a pressure bearing surface with the article-receptive channel disposed to push the column of articles towards the front barrier; and
a scanner proximate the first end of the article-receptive channel configured to detect an article's identification when an article is removed from the article-receptive channel.
2. The article display device of claim 1 wherein the scanner comprises a barcode reader.
3. The article display device of claim 1 wherein the scanner comprises a camera.
4. The article display device of claim 1, wherein the pair of laterally spaced dividers is spaced to accept a plurality of cigarette packs.
5. The article display device of claim 1, further comprising a display terminal configured to display the quantity of articles populating the article-receptive channel.
6. The article display device of claim 1 further comprising:
a slot defined by the shelf, the slot oriented substantially parallel with the pair of laterally spaced dividers, wherein the pressure bearing surface engages the slot and travels along a path defined by the slot.
7. The article display device of claim 1 further comprising:
a position sensor in communication with the pressure bearing surface, the position sensor configured to detect the position of the pressure bearing surface in the article-receptive channel, wherein the quantity of articles populating the article-receptive channel is proportional to the position sensor's position in the article-receptive channel.
8. The article display device of claim 7 wherein the position sensor comprises a linear magnetic potentiometer.
9. The article display device of claim 1 further comprising a identification sensor configured to detect a person near the display device.
10. The article display device of claim 9 wherein the identification sensor comprises a wireless receiver configured to detect and identify an identification tag.
11. The article display device of claim 10 wherein:
the identification sensor comprises a radio frequency identification tag reader; and
the identification tag comprises an RFID tag identifiable by the radio frequency identification tag reader.
12. The article display device of claim 11 wherein the RFID tag comprises a bracelet.
13. The article display device of claim 11 further comprising a memory configured to record the identification of a proximate RFID tag when an article is removed from the article-receptive channel.
14. The article display device of claim 11 further comprising an alarm configured to trigger when an article is removed from the article-receptive channel in the absence of a proximate RFID tag.
15. The article display device of claim 14 wherein the alarm signal is communicated to an electronic network.
16. The article display device of claim 3 further comprising a numeric display configured to indicate a quantity of articles residing in the article-receptive channel.
17. An article display device comprising:
a shelf comprising a pair of laterally spaced dividers disposed approximately perpendicular to the shelf, the pair of laterally spaced dividers being spaced to define a channel having a size and dimension to hold a column of cigarette packs;
a front barrier configured to capture the column of cigarette packs placed within the channel, the front barrier located proximate a first end of the channel;
a plow biased to push the column of cigarette packs towards the front barrier;
a position sensor in communication with the plow, the position sensor configured to detect the plow's position within the channel;
a scanner proximate the first end of the channel, the scanner configured to identify cigarette packs removed from the channel;
a radio frequency identification tag reader configured to detect a proximate RFID tag; and
an alarm configured to trigger when a cigarette pack is removed from the channel in the absence of the proximate RFID tag.
18. The article display device of claim 17 wherein the alarm signal is communicated to an electronic network.
19. The article display device of claim 17 wherein the scanner comprises a barcode reader.
20. The article display device of claim 17 further comprising a computing device that records a log each time a cigarette pack is removed from the channel, the log comprising: identification of proximate RFID tag, identification of person associated with the proximate RFID tag, identification of cigarette pack, channel identification, timestamp the cigarette pack is removed from the channel, and date the cigarette pack is removed from the channel.
21. An article display device comprising:
a shelf defining a channel having a size and dimension to hold a column of cigarette packs;
a plow with the shelf biased to push the column of cigarette packs towards a front edge of the shelf;
a radio frequency identification tag reader with the shelf configured to detect a proximate RFID tag; and
an alarm configured to trigger when a cigarette pack is removed from the shelf in the absence of the proximate RFID tag.
22. The article display device of claim 21 further comprising a position sensor in communication with the plow, the position sensor configured to detect plow position to indicate the quantity of cigarette packs in the channel.
23. The article display device of claim 21 further comprising a scanner proximate the first end of the channel configured to identify cigarette packs removed from the channel.
US13/964,916 2012-08-13 2013-08-12 Inventory system for the prevention of tobacco product theft Abandoned US20140043162A1 (en)

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