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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

For event management, the Jaguar software not only helps coordinators know if someone is falling behind, but it can also identify if that individual has diverted from his or her initially planned race (such as a long race participant opting for the short course). The system determines, based on which reader stations the individuals pass, whether they have changed course, and can then reassign them accordingly in the software.

Hansen has worked with Alien Technology for its reader and tag technology since he launched his business in 2006. That, Hansen says, is due to the company's flexible attitude regarding his request for Alien to modify its readers. For the Jaguar system, he uses the Alien reader with ITS' own firmware and antennas designed for the racing environment. The company also builds its own tags, which it designs with assistance from Alien. ITS, in fact, offers 14 different tags, each with its own unique performance attributes for different types of racing. A tag used in motorcycle racing, for instance, requires different performance than one attached to a ski boot or a runner's bib.

Existing UHF systems were still not achieving read rates above 98 percent because of the necessity of talking to each antenna port individual, thereby creating a delay in read data. Hansen says ITS has engineered a solution through its antennas and their high front-to-back ratio—that is, the ratio of received-signal strength when the antenna is rotated 180 degrees. Typically, he notes, other RFID timing systems on the market miss one or sometimes two individuals' tags out of 1,000 during a race. ITS' solution, in contrast, ensures a tag read rate of at least 99.999 percent, or one individual out of 100,000.

The Jaguar solution also includes lasers that are beamed across the finish line to confirm the RFID read time, for a finish time precise to 1,000th of a second. This can be especially important in the case of a high-speed finish. For instance, at the 3rd Annual Bootleg Challenge, held in September 2015 in Boulder City, Nev., during the Interbike International Bicycle Exposition, ITS used the laser to confirm the exact time at which each tagged participant reached the finish line. (White Sands Missile Range opted not to utilize the laser functionality for this year's Bataan Memorial Death March.) The system's cameras can also play a role in timing. When the reader triggers the cameras to begin photographing a participant based on a tag read, the software can then use those high-resolution images to confirm the time captured by the reader and the laser.

ITS' system can also feed race results to broadcast systems so that the results and corresponding images can be viewed live. During the past year, Interbike and other race events have utilized the technology in this way, with data being received from the readers and cameras within one-quarter of a second after that data is first captured.

While there are other companies that offer UHF RFID race-timing solutions, Hansen says, his firm's research finds that the results are better with the Jaguar system. Hansen will describe the solution in detail at a presentation on May 5 during RFID Journal LIVE!, being held in Orlando, Fla.

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