By Claire Swedberg
Nov. 18, 2011—After a hard day of work at the Boston headquarters of Arnold Worldwide
, employees of the global advertising agency can enjoy a beer with coworkers at the company's lounge area, with the help of an RFID
-enabled key fob. The solution, which enables the staff to treat themselves to a cold longneck thanks to a vending machine equipped with an RFID reader
, has been in place since Nov. 2 of this year. Workers say the vending machine, known as Arnie, is innovative and fun to use. Arnie even has his own Web site
, as well as Twitter
Arnold Worldwide provides advertising for clients around the globe, with a strong focus on creativity. The company's work includes Progressive
's car-insurance company "Superstore" ad campaign, featuring Flo, in addition to Volkswagen
's "Drivers Wanted" promotions. Each year, Arnold dedicates approximately $100,000 to implement creative ideas from its staff that promise to improve the working environment. One reason for undertaking such projects, says Anthony Stellato, Arnold Worldwide's creative technologist, is to develop creative ideas that the firm could then recommend to clients. A group of employees, for example, conceived of a beer vending machine for the lounge known as "Barnold," in which functions and parties are held. The company liked the idea enough to not only develop a technological solution to control how many bottles of beers each worker received, but also to serve up beers that it makes and bottles itself at a brew-on-premise (BOP) facility called Barleycorn's Craft Brew
, located in Natick, Mass. The bottled beverages can be produced not only for the staff, but also for some of the firm's clients, such as a lager branded under a client's name and created according to a unique recipe.
To use the vending machine, an Arnold employee places his RFID key fob against the machine's RFID reader, located behind a pad that says "Hold Bling Here."
The company currently produces six different styles, including Arnold Pilsner, India Pale Ale and Scottish Ale, each with its own Arnold label. The beer is made exclusively for the vending machine, and is not sold commercially. In the past, alcoholic beverages have been served in Barnold only during organized events, requiring the presence of a bartender. Now, the vending machine provides daily beer dispensing to employees without the need for someone to tend bar. "We've had Barnold at the agency for years," Stellato says, "and it's been stocked with beverages, including brands from the clients we represent, like Jack Daniel's
and Southern Comfort
." However, he notes, such liquors were available to Arnold's employees only when a bartender was present. "We wanted to make it a place where people could socialize any time they wanted." With the Arnie machine in place, coworkers can now hang out after work and drink a beer, even when there's not a bartender on site.
Anthony Stellato, Arnold Worldwide’s creative technologist
Each employee is allotted a certain number of beers per month from the machine (such as three or four bottles), at the discretion of the individual manager, free of charge. When a worker's key fob is placed close to the interrogator built into the vending machine, it reads that tag's ID number, and Arnie's touch screen displays a picture of the fob's owner, as well as a personalized greeting, such as "How's it hanging, Matt?" The screen also displays the number of beers that the individual has already received that month. If the employee has not yet reached his or her beer quota for that month, the system approves the transaction, after which the user can press the "beer me" prompt and select a beer type, which will then be dispensed.
If management wishes to reward an employee for outstanding work, they can also increase the number of beers allotted to that person at the vending machine as a bonus, by requesting Stellato to increase the beer allotment credited to that individual's key fob.
After the vending machine recognizes a user's RFID key fob, it displays a greeting on its touch screen.
The company has provided a key fob for each of its approximately 600 employees. To date, Stellato says, the system has been functioning well, is popularly received and has not experienced any problems. There have been no reported instances of key-fob misuse, such as sharing a fob between employees to provide additional beer for a particular individual. The company has no plans to commercialize the system for other users.
On the other hand, Stellato says, Arnold Worldwide does intend to apply the RFID-enabled vending-machine technology to future projects. However, he adds, it is still too early to discuss those plans. At this point, the firm does not expect to provide the Arnie vending machines to its offices in other regions of the world, Stellato says, noting, "Because the beer is locally craft-brewed by Arnold Boston employees, which is a big part of its charm, it's logistically difficult to do this."
The Arnie system was designed by Stellato and a craft-beer expert, while social-media experts helped to develop the data display on the vending machine's touch screen. Stellato says he modified a Dixie-Narco
BevMax 3 vending machine to include a 125 kHz passive EM Microelectronic
(LF) RFID reader compliant with the ISO
11785 standard. Additionally, he also created three databases that are hosted on a server. Attached to the vending machine is an Apple
Mac Mini desktop computer that, he says, "acts as Arnie's brain." He wrote an interface in C++ for the software that links unique ID numbers encoded on RFID tags embedded in the key fobs that are issued to employees at least 21 years of age. A tag's ID number is linked to the individual to who