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U.K. Government Supports Using RFID to Fight Bike Thefts

The system uses motion-detecting active 433 MHz RFID tags, in conjunction with security cameras, to inform police when a bicycle is moved without authorization.
By Rhea Wessel
May 02, 2008The United Kingdom's central government has been promoting bicycles as an alternative mode of transportation—one that is good for the health of cyclists as well as for the environment. However, more than 1,200 bikes are stolen each day across the country, according to a 2007 study conducted by Direct Line, a U.K. insurance company.

That's why the government's Home Office helped finance the development of an RFID-based bike-monitoring system linked to the country's ubiquitous network of closed-circuit televisions (CCTVs) used for fighting crime. The system was tested at the University of Portsmouth, in collaboration with the Hampshire police department, and is expected to be launched commercially this month.

"The main objective of the system," says Dave Fairbrother, a policeman at the university who helped create the concept, "is to act as a deterrent so offenders entering a cycle-monitoring area realize that if they attempt to remove a lock, they will be caught on camera."

The WASP (Wireless Asset Security Protection) Cycle Monitoring System, as it has been dubbed, features an active 433 MHz RFID tag joined to a custom-designed motion sensor. The tag and sensor are enclosed in a cylindrical weatherproof plastic housing colored yellow and black to resemble a wasp. The housing is designed to attach to U-locks made by Kryptonite, or directly to bikes, scooters, motorbikes and other valuables.

Produced by a U.K. company called SOS Response, in partnership with Canadian telecom hardware designer Telecommunications International Inc., the 433 MHz tags have a signal range of about 100 meters and a battery life of three years. Len Weaver, SOS Response's owner and founder, developed the system during the past two years.

Here's how it works: When signing up for the service, a cyclist is photographed, and the image is stored in a database that also contains that person's name, address and phone number, along with a description of the bike. Some information is optional; for instance, users can note their hair and eye color if they wish.

When cyclists park their bicycles in a WASP-secured zone containing an RFID interrogator, they use their mobile phones to call a number and register their bikes in that particular zone. They then key in a four-digit PIN and a zone code (all WASP-secured zones—there are currently two—are identified with a three-number zone code). Upon returning, cyclists must again call and enter the PIN to check out of the system.

If a bicycle is moved prior to being checked out, the tag transmits its unique ID to the RFID interrogator. The reader identifies the bike and combines this information with the system's registration data. If a bike is registered as locked, the system instructs the CCTV camera to zoom in on a specific zone.

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