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RFID Navigates South African Rivers in Kayak Marathon

The event's organizers could identify where participants were located throughout the 120-kilometer course, based on RFID technology that read the tags of kayaks passing checkpoints, thereby allowing friends and family to meet paddlers along the river and provide food and water.
By Claire Swedberg

Transmitting data from the readers to the RaceTec software, provided by Australian developer Graeme Vincent and hosted on a dedicated server, provided another challenge. In this part of South Africa, cellular transmission towers are too far away to provide strong enough reception for ordinary cellular devices. Therefore, the race organizers used a 4G Wi-Fi wireless router connected to a high-gain, all-band cellular log periodic dipole array (LPDA) antenna, in order to provide an Internet connection so that each reader could transmit its data to the dedicated server. That information was then forwarded to the Dusi Race website, where spectators and the club's management could view where each boat's tag had last been interrogated during the marathon.

Each participant, upon checking in on the first day of the marathon, was given an RFID tag that was then affixed to his or her kayak. The ID number encoded to that tag's memory was associated in the software with that specific participant and boat. Each time the individual passed a reader, the tag's ID number was captured and sent to the RaceTec software, which linked the tag ID with the time and place at which the read occurred, and then forwarded that data to the Dusi website.

Spectators could visit the website to view where and when particular participants were last identified, based on the tag reads. They could then plan their meet-up with those paddlers—to provide drinks, food or other supplies—according to that information.

The data also provided a time-keeping record. The club kept its manual time-keeping system in operation alongside the RFID technology, in the event that the RFID time-keeping system (which was being used for the first time during this event) failed in any way.

However, Eldridge says, the time-keeping data was accurate and much more comprehensive than the information that could be collected manually. This, he adds, indicated how well each paddler performed throughout each day of the race, rather than just the time that he or she arrived at that day's finish line.

The system went well, Eldridge reports. Altogether, five tags were knocked off the kayaks by tree limbs, which were then replaced with new tags at the next available stopping point.

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