HP plans to introduce the upcoming lab in Omaha, Neb., Monday at the National Retail Federation Convention & Expo in New York. In a separate announcement at the NRF show, HP will unveil a deal with Microsoft Corp. to install Windows Embedded for Point of Service (POS) on HP cash registers, for "plug-and-play" operability with scanners and other peripherals used in stores.
HP hopes to open the RFID "Noisy Lab" by the end of February, said Salil Pradhan, chief technology officer for HPs RFID Program, in a prebriefing for eWEEK.com.
Drawing from its own lessons learned, HP plans to help customers deal with "real world" factors—ranging from liquids to forklifts and conveyor belts—that can impact deployment in various ways.
"A lot of retailers and product distributors are now starting to scale up their RFID operations. There is no substitute for real world testing," Pradhan told eWEEK.com. The Noisy Lab will be housed inside an HP manufacturing facility.
HP, one of Wal-Marts top eight suppliers, started tagging products at the pallet and case levels last April 30, as part of Wal-Marts RFID pilot programs.
"The first HP products to be tagged were 7760 and 7660 HP Photosmart photo printers and HP 3970 Scanjet scanners," Pradhan said. "Because HP does not ship these printer or scanner models in cases, the individual consumer packaging on these [products] that consumers see on store shelves are being RFID tagged."
The outer packaging of these printer and scanner models has been marked with an EPCglobal symbol, to indicate compliance with the emerging EPCglobal RFID specification.
HP faced some deployment challenges with its printer and scanner products, Pradhan said. "The printers are full of metal, for example, and the printer cartridges are full of liquid."
But starting on Jan. 1, HP widened the list of RFID-tagged products shipped to Wal-Mart and other retailers to include Compaq Presario desktop PCs; HP notebook PCs,; iPaq Pocket PCs; more Photosmart printer models; and HP All-in-One, LaserJet and DeskJet printers.
"Now, we are shipping close to 40 different RFID-tagged products to Wal-Mart," Pradhan said. Products are being tagged at the pallet, case and individual packaging levels, with the use of RFID tags from both Matrix and Alien Technology.
HP is also a product supplier to Target Corp., and is ready to comply with Targets RFID initiative, too, according to Pradhan.
Key elements of the RFID Noisy Lab in Omaha will include a Racetrack Conveyor, RFID Printer Write Station, RFID Write Station, RFID Portal, Middleware Server and Pallet Wrap Station.
Printronix Inc. will contribute a multiprotocol printer for encoding labels in line with the various label sizes and antenna designs that have emerged through various early RFID pilots.
Meanwhile, in its new deal with Microsoft, HP will install Windows Embedded for POS on its HP rp5000 POS devices.
"I think the availability of an embedded OS from Microsoft [for retail] will make POS a more plug-and-play environment," Pradhan said. First announced last October, the Windows Embedded for POS operating system is geared to supporting scanners along with receipt printers, magnetic stripe readers, cash drawers and other peripherals for retail stores.
For its part, HP has sold more than 150,000 rp5000 POS devices since rolling out these devices six months ago, according to Pradhan. Customers include Publix Super Markets Inc. and Chicos, for instance.