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RFID Pill Monitors Body Temperature at Walking Race

Researchers at Radboud University used RFID-based sensors to monitor the core body temperatures of volunteers at the annual Four Days Marches of Nijmegen in The Netherlands.
Tags: Sensors
Jul 29, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

July 29, 2008—Researchers at Radboud University in The Netherlands were able to monitor the body temperature of participants at the world's largest marching event using RFID technology. Volunteer participants in the annual Four Days Marches of Nijmegen swallowed an RFID-based temperature sensor that measured their internal temperature and helped researchers identify potential health issues.

The Marches of Nijmegen has been held annually since 1916. Although originally designed as a military exercise, the march (held in mid-July) now draws up to 40,000 people who march distances between 30 and 50 kilometers for each of the four days of the event.

The RFID study builds on the results of a previous manual study carried out in 2007, which monitored volunteers to ensure their body temperatures did not exceed recommended levels. The University began studying ways to monitor the health of marchers during the event after the deaths of two participants in 2006. That same year, 69 people were hospitalized for exhaustion or overheating.

"Based on their height, weight and age, the system was able to alert the volunteer if their core body temperature had reached a dangerous level," says Martijn Bakkers, branch manager of healthcare at Progress Software.

Radboud University developed the temperature tracking solution to help marchers avoid overheating and dehydration. Using complex event processing (CEP) technology provided by Progress Software, researchers were able to monitor and record the ten volunteers' temperatures via a signal transmitted every ten seconds from the RFID "pill" to a receiving device in the volunteer's backpack. That data was then transmitted via Bluetooth to a GPS-enabled mobile phone (provided by Dutch telecommunications operator KPN) to the operations center at Radboud.

CEP is an event processing technology that allows an application to analyze multiple streams of event data, and then react to those conditions quickly. The Progress Apama CEP platform processed and analyzed the temperature data in real time. If a volunteer's body temperature was too high, officials could alert them to either rest or rehydrate using SMS text messaging, calling them on the mobile phone, or by alerting the onsite medical team to take action if needed. Because location information was available via Google Maps, it was also possible to alert other walkers in the vicinity of the volunteer if they were in danger of dehydrating.

"The test went really well," says Bakkers. "We were able to see the volunteers' locations and body temperatures in real time. It rained during the marches this year, and we were actually able to see when their body temperatures fell or rose by as little as half a degree depending on whether they were wearing a raincoat or not."

The RFID-based temperature sensor was provided by Florida-based HQ Inc. The company's 262 kHz CorTemp sensor has been used by a number of other organizations, including the National Football League (NFL), to track the core body temperature of athletes.

According to Bakkers, the tests will be expanded at next year's event. Progress and Radboud also plan to test the solution at marathons and other long-distance running events, and hope to eventually make a solution available for other sports markets.

"We think the solution could be utilized to help prevent death or injury from heat exhaustion at these endurance events," Bakkers says.

Radboud has conducted a number of other RFID research projects, some of them controversial. Earlier this year, researchers at Radboud announced they had cracked and cloned London's Oyster travelcard and the Dutch public transportation card, both of which are based on the MIFARE Classic RFID chip from NXP (see Yet Another RFID Hack Could Affect Up To 1 Billion Cards).
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