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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

The device costs €30 ($38), which includes three years of service. If the bike is lost or stolen, the user can go online and report that information, and the software will then update the bike's status as missing.

A postal carrier is issued a 1128 Bluetooth ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID reader made by Technology Solutions (UK) Ltd. (TSL). When the carrier comes upon a bike equipped with a CycloSafe device, he or she can remove the reader from its holster (worn at the waist), and press its button to capture the bike's tag ID number. The interrogator forwards that data to a PDA via a Bluetooth connection, and the PDA pushes the ID, along with its GPS-based location information, to the bpost server. There, Zetes software identifies whether that tag has been listed as belonging to a stolen or missing bicycle. If, in fact, the bike has been listed as missing, the software can forward that data to the local police department. The police also have access to the server and can decide whether to investigate or forward the data to the bike's listed owner.

The CycloSafe device, which contains a pair of passive UHF tags, locks onto a bike's frame.
An enterprising thief could break the CycloSafe device off a bicycle, Van Beveren says, but doing so might make it difficult for that person to sell the bike, since it would not have the CycloSafe to verify ownership. However, she says, the majority of bikes are simply "borrowed" and discarded, and in such situations, it is unlikely a thief would bother to remove the device. If the legitimate owner ever sells the bike, he or she can provide the CycloSafe registration certificate to the new owner, who can then go online and update the CycloSafe database accordingly.

Zetes selected the Confidex tag for the CycloSafe device because it could provide approximately 1.5 meters (5 feet) of read range, even when attached to a metal bike frame. The reader is powered by a rechargeable battery, which can typically last the length of a mail carrier's eight-hour shift—especially, Toussaint points out, since the reader will not be used constantly, but only when a mailman determines there are bikes in the vicinity that he or she would like to identify. The reader can either vibrate, emit a sound or illuminate an LED light each time it captures a tag ID. However, she adds, the carrier is not required to personally determine whether a bike is stolen, or to take any action if it is.

Bpost aims to benefit from using the system through increased revenue from sale of the devices and service, as well as improve its own public image. What's more, the new service promises to increase job security for mail carriers, by adding one more role to their duties. For now, only a small number of carriers in the four initial cities (Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Leuven) are being equipped with readers, Van Beveren says. She declines to reveal the exact number, but says it is more than a few. Bicycle stores have begun stocking the devices, and she predicts that adoption will increase as consumers become aware of the technology. "We just started selling," she states, "and haven't done much marketing."

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