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What Type of RFID System Should We Use to Time a Marathon Race?

Posted By RFID Journal, 07.08.2014

Which companies offer solutions for this application?

—Name withheld


There are companies that offer both low-frequency (LF) and ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID systems. ChampionChip was among the first race-timing companies, and it uses passive LF transponders (see IPICO Enters Race for RFID Sports Timing). Loop antennas are laid on the street and a transponder is placed on each runner's sneaker. As he or she passes over the antenna, the tag is read.

Innovative Timing Systems and Sweden's Racetimer use passive UHF RFID (see Startup Offers 'Fail-safe' RFID Race-Timing System and UHF Tags Enter the Timing Race), while Australia's RFID Race Timing Systems utilizes a battery-assisted UHF tag (see Australian Race-Timing Company Finds Battery-assisted UHF Tags a Winning Solution).

ChronoTrack Systems, which also uses passive UHF technology, offers race-timing solutions and has partners in many states from which systems can be rented (see RFID News Roundup: RFID Keeps Time With Seattle Marathon Runners and UHF Solution Tracks 42,000 Runners at the New York City Marathon).

And SAI Timing and Tracking offers a racer's bib with a disposable Gen 2 passive RFID tag to track a runner's time during a race. According to the company, the system has been employed at marathons in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, with a 99.84 percent read rate (see Gen 2 Tags Track Runner, Motorcycle Speeds).

In addition, Orbiter offers a passive UHF RFID lap counter, as well as other race-timing products.

If you are using one of the above systems, I think the decision comes down to cost and features. Which features do you want to offer your runners, and how much are you willing to pay for them? If you are building a solution, then you need to look at the costs of the components and their reliability. Passive UHF transponders can be pinned to a bib and can be very inexpensive, but the tags cannot always be read reliably next to the human body, since the body is mostly composed of water, which absorbs RF energy and detunes the tag antenna. Still, the above companies claim high read rates.

Most businesses that offer race-timing systems provide data as part of their solutions. I don't think they will sell you the software they use, so you would need to create your own. My advice would be to look at the offerings that already exist before building your own, unless you host a lot of races.

—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal

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