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Tucson Schools Considering RFID BusPass
The school district plans to test an RFID-based system that would let administrators and parents know when and where kids get on and off school buses.
Jun 01, 2006—In the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), one of the nation's largest school systems, some students might be carrying RFID-enabled ID cards as soon as next fall. The TUSD is testing a system called BusPass. Designed by Tucson-based Gateway Communications, BusPass combines RFID and a global positioning system (GPS) to track when and where students board each school bus, and where and when they get off.
With 120 schools and 60,000 students, the district is interested in deploying the technology to bolster children's safety by better accounting for their locations outside of school premises. Parents could arrange to receive text phone messages or e-mail alerts telling then when their children's bus will arrive, or if their children fail to catch the bus.
Alex Rodriguez, the clerk of TUSD's governing board, says he has an interest in "embracing technology to enhance the safety of the students," though he acknowledges that some parents are uncomfortable with the idea of using RFID technology because of privacy concerns. For that reason, he says, any system the school deploys—be it BusPass or another, similar technology—would likely be deployed on a voluntary basis, with parents chosing whether their children would wear any RFID devices. They would also likely need to purchase the active tag that is part of the proposed BusPass system, as well as pay a monthly subscription fee.
Under the proposed BusPass system, only the student's ID number, assigned by the school system, would be encoded to the RFID tag assigned to each student. None of his or her personal information would be transmitted to readers; rather, it would all remain in a database. The district would like to start monitoring children from preschool through fifth grade, then possibly extend the system to older kids. Some parents, however, feel that children in higher grades do not require such close monitoring.
This summer, the district plans to perform a pilot test of the BusPass system. The district has already completed a proof-of-technology test of the BusPass system, which entailed installing GPS transceivers and RFID interrogators on six buses and attaching RFID tags to the key rings of their respective drivers. Thus, Gateway was able to show the tags being read on the buses and also the location of each bus at various times throughout the day.
Gateway has developed its own RFID tag and interrogator system, based on 433 MHZ active tags and readers. Once each minute, the tag transmits a unique ID associated in a back-end system with the student to which it is assigned. The interrogator collects all the tag IDs it reads on the bus, then creates a manifest that is updated once per minute. The Gateway reader is connected, through a serial cable, to a DigiGate mobile tracking radio. The latter is part of the DigiGate wireless IP telemetry system Gateway also owns and operates.
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