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Thousands of Survivalists Compete With Help from RFID

The Bear Grylls Survival Challenge is leveraging a UHF RFID-based solution from SweatWorks to track the progress of participants as they make their way down post-apocalyptic highways, over mine fields and across infested swamps.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 09, 2018

With its first of what may become a series of annual endurance races, the Bear Grylls Survival Challenge, in Santa Clarita, Calif., will leverage ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) radio frequency identification technology to track the level of fitness and endurance of each participant during challenges as wide-ranging as racing up steep hills, eluding mines and eating mystery proteins.

Traditional races, such as triathlons or marathons, track an individual's speed based on the time that he or she begins the race and when that person crosses the finish line. The Survival Challenge, however, is not just about speed, but also how well competitors perform in a variety of challenges, some in very remote locations. To manage the scoring of each challenge, the event required a system utilizing technology that could adapt to changes. The solution is provided by fitness events technology company SweatWorks.

Each participant receives a waterproof wristband with a built-in UHF RFID tag.
The Bear Grylls Survival Challenge, scheduled for Apr. 28–29, will cover approximately 4 miles of area at the Blue Cloud Movie Ranch, in Santa Clarita. The course was designed according to challenges from survivalist and entertainer Bear Grylls. The event is expected to draw 6,000 participants. The outdoor competitive survival course will test both mental and physical strength, as well as each participant's instinct and resourcefulness.

On race day, every participant will receive an Echo-Sigma Survival Pack, containing familiar items, including a bandana, a plastic bag and other survival tools. Participants will compete on an off-road journey through 18 unique survival scenario challenges across five different environments: an apocalyptic highway, a cave complex, a deserted village, a mountain ascent and descent, and an infested swamp.

Beginning with the post-apocalyptic highway, athletes must navigate a series of "mystery encounters" in tunnels, and march across desert country, through a war-torn village under enemy fire and across a mine field. Mission Everest challenges send them up a steep climb, then they must scavenge and consume an "unexpected protein source," cross an infested swamp, and finally receive their survival score. To track where individuals are at any given time, as well as if they make a misstep, such as treading directly on a virtual mine, the system uses SweatWorks' RFID technology.

Founded in 2012, SweatWorks is a creative digital agency headquartered in Virginia that creates what it calls "kick-ass interactive products." In fact, says Mohammed Ibqal, SweatWorks' founder and CEO, the firm has become a leading technology company in the fitness industry. Its products are used in gyms, in personal fitness products and at racing and CrossFit events. Iqbal says the company uses RFID not only to monitor milestones, such as when an athlete crosses a finish line, but also to enhance the event experience itself. Too often, he explains, RFID is simply part of a timing system. "At the end of the day," he states, "we're an agency that develops apps and experiences."

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