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RFID Brings Real-Time Visibility to Bataan Memorial Death March

The system recorded the progress of participating runners and walkers along a 26-mile route through the desert, activating cameras at each location and posting participants' photos on social media.
By Claire Swedberg

ITS used the microwave transmitter to connect with the Internet, thereby creating a private cellular network to stream live data online. "We create our own cell tower," says Kurt Hansen, Innovative Timing Systems' founder and CEO.

The tags were then read at three other points for the long race participants, and at one other point for the short race, thereby providing event coordinators with a view into any individual who may have failed to reach the next milestone in a timely manner, indicating a potential problem. Pictures were taken at these locations as well.

Finally, as a participant passed the finish line, the system automatically calculated that individual's completion time and sent it to the marcher's mobile phone via ITS' Its Your Race app, and to that person's social-media account. He or she could also view the results at a computer station installed onsite. This was especially valuable, Rodriguez says, since the final time is typically the first thing participants ask for upon finishing the race.

During this year's Bataan Memorial Death March, Rodriguez reports, approximately 30 tags were not read at the finish line. The majority of these, if not all, represented participants who either lost their bib along the way, or decided not to complete the race.

Next year, Rodriguez plans to add more readers to the course in order to provide more granular detail regarding participants' locations. The event can accommodate a maximum of 7,000 participants, Dorrance says, and she hopes to reach that number next year, since 2017 is also the 75th anniversary of the actual Bataan Death March.

ITS launched in 2006 to provide an alternative to existing RFID race-timing solutions that typically employ low-frequency (LF) or high-frequency (HF) passive RFID tags and reader-mats to interrogate chips or tags on athletes' shoes. Hansen says he has a background in RF engineering, antenna design, software engineering and electronic circuit design, and is a ham radio hobbyist. He was intrigued by the concept of overcoming the weaknesses of existing RFID racing systems. The LF or HF passive RFID tags and readers, for instance, do not provide high read rates, he says, while the mats represent a trip hazard. "I wanted to take the reading overhead," he states. Therefore, he built a lab in his own basement and spent two years developing a UHF-based system with overhead reader antennas to capture tag IDs on bibs and pinpoint each bib's location based on several factors.

"We use a combination of signal strength, triangulation and some other mathematical processes" that Hansen invented, he explains. "We have races where we might have 32 antennas at a single timing point, so there are complex algorithms that handle the process." ITS refers to this locating system as the reader's Calc Engine, and it's what decides the final finish time.

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