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Belgian Postal Workers Deliver Info About Missing Bikes

Bpost's CycloSafe system enables postal workers in Belgian cities to forward data about bicycles and their location using a handheld RFID reader and UHF passive tags on the bikes.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 08, 2014

Some Belgian postal workers are helping police locate missing or stolen bicycles this fall as part of their daily rounds, and they are using radio frequency identification technology to do so. As they deliver mail, some employ an RFID reader, along with a PDA with GPS capability, to read RFID tags attached to the bikes' frames. The service, known as CycloSafe and provided by postal company bpost, has been taken live in four Belgian cities, with a small number of mail carriers in each city armed with RFID interrogators. The long-term plan is to expand the system's use to most Belgian municipalities.

Bpost, also known as the Belgian Post Group, is a private company that delivers mail throughout Belgium. Its mailmen travel by bicycle, as well as by foot, to do their jobs. In recent years, the company has undertaken initiatives to expand the roles of its mail carriers, thereby offering non-postal services that can help communities, and to secure the jobs of their mail carriers, says Kathleen Van Beveren, the director of bpost's Public, Health & Interim (temporary workers) business unit.

A bpost worker uses a TSL 1128 Bluetooth UHF RFID reader to capture a bicycle's tag ID number and forward that data to a PDA.
One initiative that had interested the company involved identifying missing or stolen bicycles, Van Beveren says. Bpost had been in discussions with several local municipalities and police departments regarding this issue, she adds—not only to identify where such bicycles may be located, but also to determine the owners. One cause of bike theft in Belgium is that some thieves simply "borrow" a bicycle, ride it to another location in a city and then abandon it. In this case, the bike remains in a public place, but finding it can be a difficult task for owners or the police. When police take possession of an abandoned bicycle, the department holds it for six months, but it is sold or discarded if not claimed after that time.

"We thought we should do something for bike security using our mailman network," Van Beveren says. While some stolen bikes taken back to a thief's home, where they cannot easily be located, she notes, many are simply discarded at another location. This often happens around schools, universities and train stations. Bpost began seeking a solution, and discovered that though there were RFID-based tracking systems available to identify bicycles, the tags were difficult to read. For example, bpost found an RFID-tagging system used on bikes in the United Kingdom, but the tag is built into a bicycle's metal frame, and the seat must be removed in order to read that tag. In addition, the read range is very short. Bpost envisioned a solution with a read range of 1 or 2 meters , so that a postal carrier could simply walk past one or more bicycles and read all of their tags without slowing down.

Identification and mobility technology firm Zetes designed the RFID solution for bpost's CycloSafe service, according to Hervé Toussaint, Zetes Belgium's manager.

Bicyclists can sign up for the service at the CycloSafe website, or at a local bpost office or bicycle shop, by purchasing a CycloSafe device consisting of two Confidex RFID on-metal tags embedded in a plastic housing that locks onto a bike's frame. Both tags are encoded with the same unique identification number, which is also printed on the device's exterior. Having two RFID tags—one positioned on a bike's left side, the other on its right—ensures that a reader can quickly capture the ID from either side of the bicycle.

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