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RFID Brings Visibility to the Sport of Orienteering

Participants in this year's North American championships wore passive RFID tags, providing updates regarding the locations of athletes racing across the forested mountainsides.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 25, 2012When orienteering athletes start their competition, they enter into the forest and aren't seen again by spectators until they emerge at the end of the event. That means that friends and family, eager to learn how their favorite participant is doing at navigating an unfamiliar terrain with a map and compass, have to wait to see them return and learn the details after the fact. RFID technology however, is now bringing visibility to those woodland activities.

For the 2012 North American Orienteering Championships (NOAC), held last weekend at the Delaware Water Gap National Recreational Area, in Pennsylvania, up to 26 "control points" were fitted with RFID readers and hundreds of participants were issued RFID tags. The technology was provided by New Zealand company O-lynx and German RFID solution provider Sportident.

NAOC event director Sandy Fillebrown (photographer: Julie Keim)
Orienteering is a sporting event that requires athletes to carry a map to locate specific points on an unmarked course—typically in forested or other wilderness areas. Whoever can complete the course and stop at each point the fastest within his or her age, gender and experience category, is deemed the winner. The sport is popular in parts of Europe, as well as increasingly in North America.

At the North American Orienteering Championships, competitors came from around the world to find their way through courses that varied from 2.5 to 13.1 kilometers in length, based on the distance category (sprint, middle and long) and the participants’ gender and age, with each course consisting of 10 to 26 control points spread out through acres of woodland. For the past decade or so the North American club has used low-frequency 125 kHz passive RFID tags and readers to track the time at which each participant reached each point in the course, but this year for the first time the group also used wireless technology to send data back in real-time so that an announcer could update the audience as to who was reaching what point in the course.

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