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Tec Trek Podcast: Possibilities of RFID

TJ and Yatri are joined by Dustin Hoffmann, asset protection expert, to discuss RFID, a technology that enables devices we use every day, from the EZ passes in our cars to the tags on new clothes. Stay to hear about inventory management, theft recovery, public safety, and (of course) modern security.

Listen in on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

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Episode Transcription

TJ: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to "Tec Trek." My name is TJ. I am here as always with my partner in crime, Mr...

Yatri: Yatri. How you guys doing?

TJ: Hey, everybody. So, today, we've got a really interesting question that we wanna take a look at. And we've got an outstanding expert coming on that's gonna help us sorta dig into this topic. And the question we wanna look at is, what are the possibilities of radio-frequency identification, better known as RFID? So some of the things we wanna talk about here today. So RFID is one of those technologies that I think most people understand at a basic level, right? Like it's something that they have encountered in their day-to-day life, be it in a retail environment with the little clickety-clackety thing that's stuck on your piece of clothing that you're buying that they have to take off. Or I remember one of the things that I was always really interested in as a kid, is like going to Barnes & Noble. And they used to put the little flexible RFIDs in the book. And as a kid, I was like, "Look, what I found? I found some sort of magic thing that's...some mind control device in the book." And so, I think everybody has at least some level of exposure to RFID.

But there's some really interesting, I don't know, modern applications of RFID. And we encounter it, you know, here in our day-to-day. We don't talk about that too much on this podcast. But in our day-to-day as a company, we encounter the need for it in very advanced complicated usages. So RFID, basically, it's using electromagnetic fields to identify and track different tags attached to an object. And that's kind of a rudimentary way of thinking about it. But in essence, that's kind of what it is. If you think back to the two things I just mentioned, usually you'll have, like, a doorpost at a store. You know, you see the things that beep when you go out and they forgot to take the tag off. Those are tracking a tag passing through. And so when that tag crosses the threshold, the alarm goes off, they know you stole something, or they know cashier forgot to take the tag off, whatever the case may be. And, typically, an RFID system is gonna consist of a tiny radio transponder, a receiver, and a transmitter, all kind of packed into a tiny little package. Now, the transponder is the device that emits the signal when it receives a signal. So it's like a give and take kind of thing.

Yatri: It's almost like a feedback loop, right?

TJ: Yes, exactly. And when that loop breaks is when, hey, something's wrong kind of an idea. Transponders were first invented in the '40s by the Soviet Union and were used during World War II to identify aircraft as from as friendly or hostile, which is absolutely fascinating to me. And the brilliant thing is, like, you know what that replaced? Yatri, not replaced, I don't know the history of RFID really, I didn't dive into it too much. But what they used to do is they would just paint crazy shapes on airplanes.

Yatri: Oh, yeah, yeah, that's right, that's right.

TJ: Yeah. Like...

Yatri: You'd have a variety of different, kind of like, blocky or like triangles, thing like that, right?

TJ: Yeah.

Yatri: Yeah, exactly.

TJ: Yeah. For instance, like during the Normandy landings, they painted black and white stripes on the wings of the airplane. So that's how it was like, "Oh, that's a friendly airplane, I don't need to hide." So then it was like, you know what, paint kinda they're an airplane, maybe people don't see it, so let's get some RFID going. Now, what was actually the first true, sort of, ancestor to modern RFID, like in a way that we would kind of understand it...I'm not positive on this, but what I think that means is, is the transponder was not the size of a small car. Because I'm imagining the initial transponder, like we're talking, like the first vacuum tube computers here. So we're talking about, like, we've got a dining room table that goes into your airplane, and that's gonna let you identify...

Yatri: Airplanes are large.

TJ: Yeah, exactly, airplane's big enough, it can fit a car, it's fine. But the first, sort of, ancestor to a modern system was deployed I believe in the '70s, 1973. And it was used at the New York Port Authority.

Yatri: Right.

TJ: Yeah. And what made it different is, it had memory storage, right? And so, it was, kind of, the precursor to modern toll devices. You know, Yatri, you're in New York. I know you guys have toll roads, and bridges, and tunnels...

Yatri: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

TJ: ...you know, everything.

Yatri: Can't get through anywhere without an Easy Pass.

TJ: Yeah, exactly, exactly. Where I'm from in Houston, we have one toll road and everybody had an easy tag, and you just stick it...Was a little box thing that you stuck on your windshield, and you could breeze through the line without having to pay the $1.25 or whatever it was. So that's, sort of, the precursor to that. And that is still widely in use.

Yatri: Absolutely.

TJ: I mean, it's something that's everywhere. Although I was fascinated...So I had my first California toll road experience not that long ago, it's been a couple of years ago. Like, driving down to San Diego, there's a road that lets you get away from I-5, which is just nasty traffic, and it, like, takes you up throgh the mountains and it's really beautiful, but it's a toll road. And we didn't know that. And there's no toll booths, it's just like we got to where we were going, and like, I got an email that was like, "Hey, you owe us, like, $4." I was like, wait a minute, I was like, whoa, what?

Yatri: It's a thing, yeah. If you ever go to Dublin, if you ever rent a car and you drive through Ireland, when you get to Dublin, the international airport there, and you drive into the city, you will get billed via cell phone for a toll because they don't have toll booths, and they do it via the car. And so every rental agency says, you need to put in money, and you need to pay this toll, otherwise, we won't accept your car return, and we will charge you for the late fee, or service fee, or whatever.

TJ: That's pretty awesome. Like that's, kind of, like spooky future tech but it's like a way that saves me a little bit of time. So I appreciate it.

Yatri: I'm sure it's convenient for everybody. I feel like that's the only one we ran across in Ireland. It's literally just the only one.

TJ: And see, I've only hit the two...See, California is interesting because like, we've got that toll road that I've hit, but I haven't driven much in Northern California, I don't know how bad those are. And then we've got like, going to Vegas, we've got like the fruit and vegetable check that you sit in line for an hour.

Yatri: Yeah, yeah.

TJ: Yeah, when you cross in from Nevada, if you have produce, they're like, "Don't bring the produce." It's like, "Okay, fine."

Yatri: Oh, yeah. And that's like the dairy checks in some of the other states where they wanna make sure you're not bringing in raw milk from across state lines.

TJ: Exactly, exactly. I don't know how you'd use RFID for the fruits and vegetables. We'll get back to you on that, audience. Now, today's RFID, it's used in, you know, tons of different industries, livestock tagging. We're using it, you know, for inventory control, not even inventory, not even like loss prevention, but like literally inventory tracking.

Yatri: Yeah, being able to see where in the warehouse items are or how far in the shipping process they've made it, right?

TJ: Exactly. And then, of course, theft deterrence as well, which I think is a lot of people's, sort of, normal experience with it. And one thing that's really interesting about RFID to me and why it has such broad range applications is, you know, GPS, we're really limited when you go inside. Like, you're in a warehouse, GPS, dicey at best, and RFID is, sort of, that interesting bridge. I heard it put to me this way by somebody who is much smarter than me, "GPS tells you where you are, RFID tells you where it's not."

Yatri: Right, right, right. Now, that makes sense, because you don't know exactly where it is, but you know if it's in a certain area and you have...

TJ: Yeah, you know where it isn't.

Yatri: You have things posted at every exit, you know when it's not there anymore, right?

TJ: Exactly, exactly. And I mean, theoretically, like if you get into some advanced deployments and things like beacons and RFID tags, you can, kind of, infer location based on which beacon it's not by, right? But you're never gonna get, like, pinpoint...but it's still got that usage because indoors, it's kinda that or nothing right now. One of our previous episodes when we talked about, like, the simulators, like, that is an option for indoors but that's a hardcore option for indoors. Like, that is, you're not gonna deploy that at Target, like you're not gonna deploy that at like the shipping warehouse. You know what I mean? Like, that's gonna go into like a city subway system kind of thing.

Yatri: Yes.

TJ: So RFID is, sort of, the mainstream way of solving that lack of direct line of sight access to a GPS satellite in a way, and, you know, predates it.

Yatri: It's also cool because you can use RFID for two-factor authentication too, right? Like, you have a card that lets you get access to a building or verifies your identity, you know, something you have and something you know, this is the thing that you have.

TJ: Exactly. I'm trying to think of like, how in my daily...oh, this is a stupid one, but like the driving range that I go to. When you pay to get your golf balls to go hit them horribly in the wrong direction, they give you a little RFID token that you walk up and tap to the front of the thing, and it spits the balls out. So you don't actually put the money in the machine, you pay a guy and then he hands you the tag, and then you give him the tag back. So, again, it can be used for tons of different things because, in essence, it is just breaking that feedback loop that we talked about at the beginning. That breaks, know something has happened, you can have a cause and effect.

And so, the way that the technology kind of works today is you got tags and readers, right? The readers require battery power or some type of power if they're either wired in, if it's a big hub or something like that, whereas the tags are usually, they don't need it. They're passive. And the tags, the other advantage to that is that the tags themselves can be tiny. You know, we talked about the ones that I jokingly mentioned the ones that are in, like, books at bookstores, there's literally a sticker. It's a sticker. It's completely passive. It's tiny, it's itty-bitty. So that's another advantage is all the bulk is contained in the reader. So, you know, you put your hubs and locations. Your tags, they're minimal impact. They're minimal impact on the day-to-day operations.

Yatri: Right.

TJ: Also, we gotta note here that it makes perfect sense because my dog got microchipped yesterday. If your pet is microchipped, that's an RFID tag. It's a little bitty under the skin, like, little pill-shaped thing that they insert. The dog is microchipped, and we know where they are not at that point. So, RFID, broad range of usage, broad range of usage. And also, I just think it's brilliant because it's one of the best examples that I can remember taking a deep dive into other technology that emerged, you know, 80-plus years ago, give or take, 80 years ago and has constantly evolved since then, right? The fundamental technology is the same, the principle is the same.

Yatri: Yeah, we found new applications for it, as you know, sizes changed, but it is what it is, and it hasn't changed that drastically under the hood.

TJ: Yeah, yeah. Something you just said really speaks to me, it's almost like the application of it has dictated the evolution of it, rather than the other way around, which I think is, sort of, usually what happens, right, is the evolution of a product, sort of, dictates application. This one, it's kinda like, well, this is how we could use it. All right, let's make it fit, which is interesting. I don't think that's the common one.

All right, so that's enough of us yapping because we don't really know anything about this, especially in our specific usage here. So it's time to bring on our guest. Now, our guest today, that is Dustin Hoffman. He's currently a specialty retail manager of organized retail crime with 23 years of retail leadership experience. He currently leads the ORC strategy and has a team of seven ORC investigators reporting to him throughout the United States. He's held roles in specializing investigations, asset protection, and safety. Welcome, Dustin, it is our great pleasure to have you with us on the show.

Dustin: Hey, thanks, TJ. Thanks, Yatri. It's great to be here.

TJ: Yeah, yeah, very exciting to have you. So I'd love to have you just talk for a few minutes, tell us a little bit about, you know, your history, your experience, all that jazz.

Dustin: Yeah, absolutely. So I currently reside in the Bay Area. I've been in the Bay in San Francisco for about 17 years now. I grew up as a military brat, so I was, kind of, all over the United States. I started my retail career when I was 18 with Target. And, you know, what really drew me to it was, you know, as an 18-year-old being in loss prevention, being able to interact with individuals in, kind of, like crisis-type situations, or traumatic-type situations, you know, it gave you a real sense of making a meaningful impact. And that was very powerful, I think, at any age, but especially for an 18-year-old.

TJ: Yeah, that's responsibility right there.

Dustin: So, that's kind of what got me into, and I fell in love with asset protection, and I've been in retail ever since then.

TJ: That's fantastic. So my first job, I worked at Walmart when I was 16, and I remember going through the training. I could not imagine being anywhere near that age, and being the person responsible for some of that. That is mighty impressive.

Dustin: It was, you know, for an 18-year-old, you know, attractive to have that type of responsibility, and to have people, you know, rely on you and know that you're making a meaningful...Especially when you're at an age when you're, kind of, looking for like, what's your path in life. That fulfilled me pretty quickly.

TJ: That's fantastic, that's awesome. So, Dustin, how is RFID currently used for inventory protection? Like, how does it, you know, in a practical sense, work?

Dustin: Yeah. Well, you guys gave an outstanding background of RFID. I really enjoyed that. You guys have done some research there.

TJ: Thank you to Max, our producer.

Yatri: Absolutely.

Dustin: Yeah, I mean, right now, it's pretty simple application, although it's not used really that widespread still just because of the cost implications in the retail environment. But the retailers that I've had exposure to have used RFID, it's basically used for inventory management, you know, so you know, at any given time, you can have a complete picture of what your current inventory stock is, and you can get a, you know, inventory discrepancy report, kind of, on-demand. And that's really basically the basics of how it's used in the retail environment right now. There's a couple of different levels that it's used at, just depending on how a retailer will deploy it. There are like hand application RFID tag where you actually have an employee at a store that will apply the RFID tag for merchandise that is coming in, and then have readers at the point of sale that's a separate system. And then you have like handheld readers that, you know, an employee will manually go around the store and scan the merchandise to take inventory. So that's kinda like the low-level system.

And then you have some hybrids, kind of, in between that, where you could have the RFID tags source tagged at the manufacturer, so it's already, you know, attached to the price tag as the product is coming into the DC and into the field. And then you can still have, you know, handheld readers that are utilized in a separate system at point of sale for tracking the tag. And then you have fully automated ones where the tag is a, you know, a source tag at the manufacturer, you have overhead readers that are automatically reading the inventory in the store at, you know, half-hour, hourly basis. And then as a tag is scanned through point of sale, it's integrated into point of sale, so it tracks it from that point of...

Yatri: Oh, wow.

TJ: That's awesome.

Yatri: Yeah, I didn't realize that RFID had that level of automation, that's really...You're doing it in such a large level, I can imagine something like that in a warehouse, but in the storefront, like that is really different.

TJ: Yeah. And I'm assuming our audience, like most people had some exposure to working in a retail environment, right, like a lot of us have. Like, everybody should know, inventory is a massive pain.

Yatri: Oh, yeah.

TJ: The sheer count numbers...I mean, I lose track of what I have in my own house, and I don't have more than five of anything. And I still am like, what is that? Like, where did that come from? Like, is that mine? And so, imagine that at massive scale. So this kind of automation really helps alleviate those problems. And this is why we bring on experts, people, this is why we bring on experts.

Dustin: The other piece that has really moved the technology forward as far as demand is, as you know, that is the stream in the retail environment on brick-and-mortar stores, and how everything is shifting to online and to an omni-type sales, like multi-channel sales. And in order to really be able to have an effective omni-business where you're selling merchandise, not just in brick and mortar, but you're also fulfilling orders coming in from online, and they're like, for instance, buy online, pick up in-store type options, ship from store type options, where actually your stores are becoming little mini DCs, distribution cebters, right? And so, it's so much more important for you to be able to have a real-time knowledge of what your inventory is on hand so that you can accurately fulfill those orders. So that's the other piece that's really pushed the technology forward.

Yatri: I can imagine that being huge right now with what's going on, people doing, you know, curbside pickups, and things like that, I mean.

TJ: Of course, yeah, I never thought about that. Your inventory is now front-facing, whereas before, usually inventory is back facing, you know, if you don't have it, you just take the sticker down. It's not that big of a deal. But now, people are online, they're shopping, they're saying, "They have have it, I'm gonna order it." If your inventory...

Yatri: They've already made the purchase, so you better be able to fulfill it, right?

TJ: They've already bought it, so you better have it. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I hadn't thought about that. That's crazy.

Yatri: So before we dive into some of the really fun stuff, let's talk a little bit about, like, what some of the limitations of RFID are, in your opinion, Dustin. Just so we can get an idea of maybe ways that we might want to use it but quite can't, you know?

Dustin: Yeah, I would say, you know, there's a few things that come to mind, like first is just the cost of RFID right now. And it's still a substantial cost to integrate into any retail system, and that's why you don't see it as widely spread throughout the retail industry. So that's one thing. But it has come down substantially. Just like with AS tags, you know when AS tags first came out, there were substantial costs, and now they're down to just like, you know, a penny to, you know, two cents per tag, something like that. The cost is coming down. It's making it more readily available. So that's one thing.

The other piece too,is just being able to have it automated and taking, kind of, like the human error piece out of those tags. So you have a couple options, right? You have like what we talked about is, you can have it source tagged at the manufacturer, which ultimately that's the idea because you, kind of, take the opportunity for somebody to mistag it or not tag it correctly in the store retail environment. So that's the other limitation there right now is if you can afford to have it source tagged.

And then, there's the data retention piece, too. So it's a tremendous amount of data if you're a large volume retailer and you're storing all that information. So with RFID, the information that's stored with it is basically the movement of the merchandise to the different locations of the store. So it's, you know, right, a history of the merchandise. So that data has to be stored. And there are some limitations as far as how many days you can store that information right now.

TJ: Yeah. I'm sure because multiplying it, you know, large-scale retailers who've got a ton of data per store, theoretically, they've got a lot of storefronts, I mean, that starts multiplying exponentially really quickly.

Dustin: Yeah, yeah. The more that you can take, you know, the human application of it out of the system, make it more automated, the more accurate it's gonna be. So it's a substantial cost for a retailer to be able to have overhead readers throughout their environment in the DC and store environment where it's constantly scanning, taking your inventory, and telling you what you have on hand. In most environments right now, most retailers are doing a hand scan, where an employee will walk around the store and try to pick up the radio frequency of the tag. So there's some limitations there, you know, human error, you know, can factor into play there, too.

TJ: Absolutely. And also, at that point, it's interesting because that's, sort of, that downside to a hybrid system of using RFID and manpower, because now you've got the sum cost of the RFID partial implementation and you're sinking cost into man-hours because you gotta have people go in and scan it. So it's one of those catch-22s. It's like, oh my god, do I invest more money and get deeper into this, or do I just keep pumping employees out?

I remember very distinctly another retail...it was at a shop that sells hats, I won't mention who it was at all, but we had to do exactly that. Like, all of our stuff came from the DC tagged with the tags already, but we had to manually scan them into our system and check them. And it was in New York, so we had like our warehouse, and was like on the like eighth floor of two buildings over, so it was horrible. So I would have to send people up there once, twice a week to just sit there and scan in new product. I don't even know that we...I mean it must have been above my paygrade, but we didn't even use it for...like, inventory, it was still done by hand at that store. So we had our RFID purely for theft deterrence, so we would literally...Even though we had it, we didn't use it for that. We didn't have the readers to give us counts, so we would sit and manually fill it out on a spreadsheet with a pen and paper, writing down our...We were always wrong, just so...I was doing it and I was always wrong.

Yatri: It's interesting thinking about this like...Like, my familiarity with RFID is in the security side and RFID is a lot cheaper than things like name-brand smart cards are.

TJ: Yeah, yeah.

Yatri: It's just interesting seeing the other side of it where RFID is expensive and is a little less...well, not less. See, I think the benefit that I'm often thinking of is like, if it's tagged from the source, you could track it. There's no, it fell off the back of a truck, right?

TJ: Yeah, yeah. And that's another interesting thing too that it kind of blends the line between, like, inventory...because inventory management control can be, sort of, security from an asset protection standpoint, right, like, it gets very blurry, like, where does the line change? And what you're talking about is that, sort of, macro level that I think is really important, right? Like, it's maybe not tracking every shirt in the box, it's tracking the box, or the pallet, or whatever. And like, that, sort of, macro supply chain side is a whole different beast. I almost...like, future development, like a switch that can change it from, I'm tracking a pallet to, okay, now turn on the tags, or turn on the reader in the store, now it's tracking the merchandise. But, again, I don't know if that exists. That may not be a thing. All right. So next question, and you talked about this a little bit when you were introducing yourself, but you know, feel free to elaborate. How did you become interested in theft deterrence and security?

Dustin: Yeah, well, I mean, it's not very difficult to become interested in it, especially, you know, when you're an 18-year-old, and you're out there in plain clothes, walking the sales floor, arresting shoplifters...

TJ: That's amazing.

Dustin: ...responding to crisis incidents, stuff like that. I mean, it is the most...it's not for everybody, obviously. But, you know, I feel it is though, you know, the most engaging excitement, you know, type of job that you can have out there in the retail industry right now, you know, especially with the complexities of everything that's going on with, you know, business continuity and crisis management, you know, and civil unrest, and things like that, that security is leaning more into now. It's a very exciting field to be in. It's changing rapidly all the time. If you have an interest in being of service, you know, and making a meaningful impact, being able to support individuals when they're in a traumatic situation or engaged in some type of crisis. Yeah, that's what really drew me to it.

TJ: That's amazing. Do you have any cool stories, as an 18-year-old, catching shoplifters? If you don't wanna share, feel free, you don't have to.

Dustin: Well, I mean, there's always interesting ones, right? There's individuals that are involved, you know, in theft that you never would be involved in theft, you know, like, individuals, you know, that you've gone to church with, that whole, you know...

TJ: Oh, no.

Yatri: Oh, wow.

Dustin: People that...

Yatri: I can imagine that's shocking, yeah?

TJ: That's crazy. The hat store that I worked at, that I was talking about, we used to have a problem of like, we were right on Times Square, and we had an issue of people coming in, like, defeating our tags. They would have shopping bags from, like, the store next door covered in foil on the inside. So we had a door guy, like I had somebody on the shift who stood by the door, and his only job was when people came in with bags, just to see if there's foil in it because if there's foil in it, we would just say, "Hey, can you leave your bags by the front door?" That was our only thing we ever did.

Dustin: Yeah. I mean, that is one of the most interesting things about being in this field is just the ingenuity of people that are partaking in these types of crimes. You know, they have all day to, kind of, think about it and the schemes that they come up with are pretty clever.

TJ: It's like a technology arms race happening, except it's like, we've got security using these, you know, sophisticated techniques, and then we've got the aluminum foil being used to defeat it here. It's like constant one-upsmanship, which is very interesting. So now I'd love to ask one more, sort of, in a similar vein, so what has been the, sort of, history of technology in the security field as you've been involved?

Dustin: Yeah. You know, I think early on most of the technology surrounded just CCTV equipment, right? That was cameras, surveillance equipment. That was where the majority of the technology was, somewhat very light, like exception report-based type technology, you know, just running, you know, transactions that are coming from point of sale, things that you need to look at, things that are out of the norm. But really, I think now, the technology has really advanced in, you know, there's so much social media involvement out there right now, and our ability to be able to utilize social media, to be able to protect our teams, like especially in civil unrest, situation, stuff like that, and the ability to be able to get the information that we need that's happening at a national level, across the nation.

There's technology now out there that, you know, it's just been amazing, like, that can scrub the internet, scrub all social media channels, be able to get you the information that you need about things that are happening real-time in your markets, you know, like civil unrest, and things like that, protests, you know, that type of nature stuff. So I think that's where, like the most amount of advancement has been, like, in the last several years. It's really been able to get that information out there from social media and be able to utilize it in the retail environment to protect our teams and respond to incidents.

TJ: It's fascinating, right, like, it's almost like risk identification technology, like being able to find the threat before it hits you.

Dustin: Yeah.

TJ: Yeah, that's fascinating. And it's, again, something that I would not have thought of, like, in that space. I would not have thought of that having such direct impact. That's fascinating.

Yatri: I was gonna say the same thing. Yeah, it's crazy what ends up being really, really relevant without realizing it, you know.

TJ: So, Dustin, how is retail theft a public safety issue? You know, I think a lot of people think of theft as like a victimless crime. But, you know, sometimes you see interesting things on the news, you see things, I don't know...I mean, what's your take on that?

Dustin: You know, when I think about safety, you know, public safety impact of retail theft, you really think about the way that things have really escalated, you know, within, you know, the last 10 years, as far as like these, you know, organized crews that are coming into stores and stealing, you know, mass volumes of merchandise, kind of what we call like a flash mob type incident, or a flash mob robbery type incident. That's where we're seeing the largest impact to public safety is these individuals come in, grab large quantities of merchandise, many times or in multiple vehicles, they're running through the store, you know, they're running out of the store, you know, and nobody is aware of what's going on as they're running out of the store, they're getting into vehicles that are generally curbside or parked illegally. They're getting into vehicle collisions, you know, they're not obeying traffic laws or anything like that, you know, they're fleeing from law enforcement.

And even most recently, we've even seen some carjackings, where one individual will be left behind, you know, one of the crew members will be left behind in the store, the vehicle will pull away without them. And then they will actually go find whatever vehicle is available, somebody getting into their vehicle, and actually take possession of their vehicle. And we even had like a recent kidnapping, where they actually took the individual in the vehicle with them. Those are the kinds of things that, you know, happen very frequently on a daily basis in the Bay Area, for sure, that you just don't really get a whole lot of news coverage on. So that's really, you know, the biggest impact.

And then I would say another impact that's usually not discussed very much is the impact to the employees, which is, you know, if you can put yourself in their position, you're just, you know, doing what you love in the retail and whatever retailer you're working for and, you know, somebody comes in, three, four people come in behind you, you're not aware of what's going on, and they just start grabbing mass quantities of merchandise. And it's happening on a daily basis. And it can be very traumatic to the employees. And that's the impact that's happening repetitively in the retail environment. So that's the other kind of safety concern that's really escalated a lot, you know, the last, you know, several years.

TJ: And that's the one that fascinates me because I think it is...Yatri, you kinda hit the nail on the head. I think a lot of times public perception for like retail theft, it's like, oh, it's a faceless company being robbed. But I mean, it's just people in the store, guys. I mean, the trauma that can come from something like that happening, like it almost makes the company side theft irrelevant. You know, you've got people in there just doing their job. And this is way more sophisticated than certainly something that I was used to when I worked retail, which was a guy coming in and try to take a hat or two. This is something that is...not to minimize that, that can have an impact on employees as well, but this is something that is, I don't know, the idea of these things being so well organized, at least to me, as...I won't say how old I am, but as an old guy, terrifying. I can only imagine being a 16-year-old, 17-year-old in my first job, and something like this happening, like, that's not something you want weighing on the minds of your employees, especially with it happening multiple times because I mean, that's just, ugh, ugh, ugh, those sound effects are how I feel about this.

Dustin: Yeah, I mean, you don't wanna get caught in violence in the middle of any of that, right? Like, you wanna prevent the theft, but how far as a store work are you willing to go? How obligated do you feel? And it's demoralizing dealing with that time and time again. Not to mention, you know, having the actual threat of violence there.

TJ: Exactly. And that sense of lost control, right? Like, the idea that like, okay, at any given moment here, three people can burst through and, you know, real violence has the potential of happening, or stores gonna...It's like, I don't know. The exposure is almost as terrifying as the act, right? After it happens once, okay, now, I'm scared. If it happens twice, that's all I'm thinking about. And that is not good for the mental state of anybody to be thinking about, when's that next big negative event going to happen? That can't be good. You know, and I know we're getting very far away from technology here. We're, sort of, espousing on mental health a little bit. But that cannot be a good thing.

And using technology as best we can to mitigate that, I think is, kind of, what is very impressive about what you guys do, Dustin. That's one of the things that when we talked initially really stuck to me is that idea of, you know, it's less about protecting the company's clothing, and merchandise, and things. And it's about providing an environment where the employees are safe. And that's something that really stuck with me. All right, fantastic. That was a great round of questions. We're now gonna move on to what we call the lightning round. We all three have to answer, and we don't get much time to think about it. So I'll start us off with our first lightning round question. Technology, development, or innovation that you find the most interesting. Everybody answer.

I've got a weird one, actually, that I was thinking about the other day. The biggest one for me that I remember from as a kid was the switch from cartridge video games to CDs, my mind was blown. Because I remember I had like a Nintendo and the Nintendo 64, and all that, where you had the cartridge. And then going to a CD I was like, oh my God, this is life-changing. Because my only experience with discs prior to that was we had a laserdisc in school. And if you guys remember laserdiscs, they were like...

Yatri: Oh, they were gigantic.

TJ: They were huge. They were like the size of a car tire, but they held like six minutes of video, like you still had to flip it over to watch a single episode of like "Bill Nye the Science Guy." So that's mine. So that's mine. What do you guys got?

Yatri: Blue LEDs.

TJ: What? Blue...ike, the color blue?

Yatri: Yeah. We wouldn't have OLED TVs and things like that if it wasn't for multicolor LEDs. But blue LEDs, actually the Japanese scientists who figured out how to make that manufacturable, he won an award for it because it's really difficult to do.

TJ: That is fascinating. And I had no idea that that was the thing.

Yatri: Yeah, it's a thing.

TJ: Dustin, what do you got?

Dustin: And I think about this frequently, just watching, you know, older shows that are portraying things even just back in the '90s, and that's cell phones. It just blows my mind where we've come in such a short period of time, you know, especially, you know, obviously with like the iPhone. But, yeah, it's crazy to think in, you know, in less than 15 years, how far we've come from those big blocky phones to add the computing power of those devices, getting the size in the palm of your hand, it blows my mind.

TJ: A hundred percent. And I think that's one that I think I personally take for granted all the time. Like, I mean, think about, like one thing that I was thinking about the other day, me and my wife were talking about this. We were at the grocery store, and we're like, "Oh, we need something for a recipe, what is it that we need?" And we just looked it up. I was like, "What did we..." Like 15 years ago, I would have been, "Well, I guess we're not making that." It'd be like, "If you forget, like there's nothing you could do." It's crazy. It's very crazy. All right. Yatri, you wanna take the next one here?

Yatri: Absolutely. Favorite map. Pretty easy. Yeah.

TJ: What's yours? Go for it.

Yatri: Oh, you know, really, lately, it's been looking at scaled maps of the solar system.

TJ: How cool.

Yatri: Yeah. So you can get a real sense of, like, how far things actually are as opposed to just how far they look. Yeah, it's pretty interesting.

TJ: I think it might be...oh, I'm gonna say the wrong city, so I'm not gonna say, whatever. It's a Scandinavian city where they've got a massively scaled, like, little monument to the solar system, where like, the Kuiper Belt like Pluto objects are...It's like 700 miles away. It's like on the other side of the country. Like, something crazy. I'll have to look it up. I'll talk about it in the next episode. But, anyway, mine, I've gotten really into looking at better projections of maps of the Earth. You know, because the Mercator projection, which is the globe, kind of, or the map we're all, kind of, used to is completely incorrect.

Yatri: Like, Canada and Greenland look gigantic.

TJ: Canada and Greenland are gigantic and Africa is tiny, whereas Africa is massive in real life. Like, so, I've been looking at like these crazy different map projections that try to give you a truer sense of scale. Because on the Mercator map, Greenland looks like the third biggest landmass on the earth, when realistically, it's like half the size of Texas. It's small. Like, it's not that big.

Yatri: Not to mention, people leave off New Zealand all the time.

TJ: Yeah, people leave off New Zealand. And also, it's just like the sense of scale is very incorrect. And so, I've been really interested in that. Now, some of these different projections are bonkers. And really, it's a great exercise too of like, it's hard to read them even though they're more accurate. I'm like, no, no, that's not what it looks like, it looks like this, which I know is incorrect. So it's a very, very interesting thing. Dustin, what you got? What your favorite map?

Dustin: Yeah, I mean, what I use often, which continuously just blows me away that how much it's advanced, is just Google Maps. You know, I use it on a daily basis in the retail environment to be able to see, you know, I've got 300 stores, 400 stores, to be able to pinpoint a specific store, and not be there on-site and be able to zoom in and see what its surroundings are, and be able to, you know, plan out whatever you need to do, you know, from several hundred miles away. It just blows my mind. And now they have, you know, the ability to...you know, with the 360 cameras, to be able to go into a retail environment, do a 360-view of the entire interior of the store, so you can literally feel as though like you're walking through the store without ever having to have been there, so it's just really impressive what they've done there.

TJ: That is awesome. All right. Our final lightning round, what is the best song about space, best song about space? "Major Tom" is mine. That's always my answer for this one. It's "Major Tom," "Major Tom."

Dustin: I would go with you with that. I was thinking "Major Tom" too.

TJ: Yeah. Yatri, are we gonna make it a set? Is it a set?

Yatri: I always choose"Space Cowboy" by Steve Miller Band.

TJ: Yeah, all right, all right. Also great, also great, I mean he talks to a guitar, come on.

Yatri: Yes.

TJ: All right, guys, that brings us to an end. Thank you so much for listening to "Tec Trek." My name is TJ.

Yatri: I'm Yatri.

TJ: Thank you guys so much for listening. And thank you again, to our guests, Dustin Hoffman. Round of applause. Thank you so much for joining us. It's been great having your expertise on here. It's been an absolute pleasure.

Dustin: Thanks, guys.

TJ: To hear more episodes, you can feel free to subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Yatri: And to find out more, visit us at spytec.com.

TJ: Thanks again so much, guys. Take care.