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ASICS Uses RFID to Inspire Marathon Runners

The manufacturer of running shoes and clothing is using the technology to provide video and images of friends and family members to racers as they pass RFID readers.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 21, 2011Somewhere near the halfway point of last November's New York City Marathon, a runner passed an RFID interrogator on the road that captured the ID number on her shoe's RFID tag. Within seconds, a video of her young children appeared in front of her on a 20-foot LED screen, and she could hear them encouraging her on. This scenario repeated itself 7,000 times for as many runners, across three locations along the 26.2-mile racecourse. The Support Your Marathoner service was provided free by ASICS, a manufacturer of running shoes, apparel and accessories, using media, as well as software to deliver that media, from California advertising firm Vitro. For the 2011 New York City Marathon, ASICS intends to sponsor a similar service, utilizing the same RFID infrastructure to deliver content to the athletes, but with additional features.

For the past 14 years, Vitro has worked with ASICS to develop advertising and marketing strategies. Since 2005, says Tom Sullivan, the company's principal, it has provided promotional media for marathons sponsored by ASICS.

At three different points along the racecourse, antennas installed across the road read the racers' RFID tags and displayed personalized messages on a 20-foot LED screen.

The Support Your Marathoner system was the second RFID-based solution that ASICS and Vitro implemented together. The system took advantage of the RFID-based timing technology used by New York Road Runners (NYRR), the organization that manages the New York City Marathon. ChronoTrack has supplied the timing system for the annual event since 2009 (see UHF Solution Tracks 42,000 Runners at the New York City Marathon). The solution consists of a total of 46 Impinj Revolution readers installed along the course, with Impinj antennas running across the track itself, and each runner wearing a ChronoTrack D-Tag containing a ChronoTrack Viper ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) Gen 2 RFID tag (made with an Impinj Monza 3 chip). To accommodate the Support Your Marathoner service, ChronoTrack installed three additional Impinj readers and antenna strips across the track to read runners' tags, and fed that data to a cloud-based server managed by Vitro, explains Dan Howell, ChronoTrack's president.

The D-tag comes with a bib, and runners must remove the tag from that bib and loop it through one of their shoelaces prior to the race. As each runner passes over antennas at the beginning and end of the race, as well as at periodic locations throughout the course (at least every mile), the marathon management can keep a record of that individual's running time, as well as ensure that he or she completed the entire race. Readers positioned along the side of the track collect all runners' bib numbers (each ID number is also printed on the bib), which have been encoded on the tags, and forward those numbers to a ChronoTrack-hosted server via a GPRS modem. ChronoTrack software then links the bib number to the runner assigned that particular number, along with the time at which he or she crossed the line, and transmits that information to the marathon database.

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