You should stop and take a breath as you hurtle towards the millennium with headloads of get-rich-quick ideas for the Internet. There are others out there who are putting all their energies into hi-tech products that are going to change our lives off-line too. HoloTag is a young Cambridge company whose data-tagging expertise could put pay to all that queueing in the supermarket. It could also help protect brands and keep an eye on products. One use for its data tags is to keep track of goods in computerised warehousing associated with the distribution of goods bought over the Internet. It is a technological spin-out of Sentec, a company specialising in sensors, magnetic and otherwise. Sentec developed two generations of magnetic multibit data tagging technology and worked in the field of retail anti-shoplifting (EAS) for more than eight years. HoloTag has developed a label which uses layers of magnetic material in different orientations to store information. The sequin-sized 'smart' memory tag is recognised and read using a rotating magnetic field. HoloTag is in negotiation with multinationals about future concepts with a view to licensing its reader technology. For the long-term (or sooner if it can get funding), HoloTag has its eye on the multi-million pound retail market with data-tagged shopping passing through its all-encompassing tunnel reader. It has also developed a handheld model as well as a version for monitoring products on an assembly line. Right now, though, it is hoping to clean up the process control side of large corporate laundries where there is a demand for a method of cutting back on the millions of pounds worth of laundry that goes missing each year. This is apparently a serious problem for large hotel groups. The same tracking device can identify where goods are in a delivery process. Final trials of the laundry system have been completed. At this stage its robust little tags can be sold to laundries for 30p each - a lot on, say, the price of tin of beans but a tenth of the cost of rival laundry tags. 'What we have done is create a system where every item has a unique identity, so that a company knows exactly how many items it has, where they are, and whether they are real,' says Melinda Rigby, HoloTag's dynamic managing director. 'What we need now is funding to get us into producing the high volumes the market needs, lowering costs.' She believes that the technology, which is compatible with existing electronic-management technologies, is well positioned to be picked up by the retail market. 'Y2K trends associate a massive new investment by retailers in new electronic reading technology and there is a wave of interest in us forming the de facto standard in reader technology.' www.HoloTag.co.uk.
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