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New Device May Soon Sort Your Trash

April 10, 1999

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) _ Out of tuna fish? Low on pasta? Just toss your empty cans and boxes into the trash and your shopping will be done.

Futuristic fantasy? Maybe not, says NCR Corp.

The Dayton-based company said Friday it has developed a trash receptacle that translates coding on empty containers into a shopping list that can be wired to retailers for delivery.

``It’s a research project at the moment,″ said Stephen Emmott, director of NCR’s Knowledge Lab in London, England. But there is ``a fully working prototype in the lab.″

Emmott said the Intelligent Bin is embedded with a microprocessor that reads product identification codes. The information is transmitted wirelessly either to a computer or special electronic box, which compiles a list of the discarded items.

That list can then be sent to retailers over the Internet, or consumers can simply use the device to create their own shopping list, Emmott said.

``The benefit to consumers is this incredible convenience, to automatically be able to reorder things,″ he said.

Emmott said it would also give retailers a better idea of what consumers like and take some of the guesswork out of marketing. Merchants could tailor discount coupons and special offers based on consumption patterns.

``If they know a particular consumer is consuming ice cream and also throws a package of strawberries away, they begin to learn consumer habits,″ he said.

The trash cans could be on the market within five to 10 years, but it will require the industry to move away from bar codes, Emmott said.

The bins would require widespread use of radio frequency identification technology _ a tiny computer chip and antenna embedded in product labels _ which carries more information than bar codes.

The technology has been little used because it’s too expensive to put on inexpensive products, said Bob Glavin, spokesman for Monarch Marking Systems, a maker of bar-code products.

Gary Arlen, president of Arlen Communications, a research company specializing in interactive media, said this age of home shopping would favor a smart trash can, but some consumers might balk.

``How do you feel about someone keeping track of what you use for toilet paper?″ he asked. ``For some people it will be a problem.″

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