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RFID-Enabled SECRET Missions Boost Museum Membership

After deploying an educational scavenger hunt that tasks young visitors with saving the world from evildoers, the Children's Museum of Houston has seen its membership increase by 20 to 30 percent.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 28, 2016

Last November, the Children's Museum of Houston launched its Special Elite Crime Resolution and Espionage Team (SECRET) scavenger hunt. The process requires young patrons, ages six to 12, to complete a series of missions that can require multiple visits to the museum, as well as many hours of hard play and work on the part of children and their parents. The game is enabled by passive low-frequency (LF) RFID technology to link each player to his or her missions via an RFID-tagged wristband known as a Codex.

Since taking the system live, the Children's Museum of Houston has seen its membership increase, according to Keith T. Ostfeld, the museum's director of educational technology and exhibit development. That, he says, is because players, after completing one or two missions, are likely to want to return for more challenges, which makes a membership more economical for families than buying tickets for each visit.

At a mission-briefing kiosk, an RFID reader captures the ID number encoded to the RFID chip embedded in a SECRET agent's Codex wristband.
A player's goal during each mission is to protect an underground vein of crystals that emit strange energies that could revolutionize how the world gets its power. In so doing, they must also thwart the Ridiculously Intelligent Villainous Agent's League (RIVAL), an evil organization that is attempting to steal the crystals.

The game itself is designed to exercise the mind and the body, Ostfeld explains. "The purpose of this experience is to encourage kids to utilize key skills," he says, including problem solving, observation and logical decision making. Each child (with the help of a parent) signs up for a series of six missions that involve a variety of tasks, such as walking through the museum, searching for clues, negotiating mazes, solving riddles, performing calculations and answering questions at kiosks. There is no telling what players may encounter on any given mission, Ostfeld says. (The missions' details are kept secret by design, Ostfeld says, so that new participants will not know what to expect.) Typically, they solve one or two missions during their first visit, then return to accomplish others on subsequent trips. It's a workout, both mentally and physically, he notes, since the game is designed so that patrons move about the entire facility.

Each player wears a wristband containing EM Microelectronic's EM4200 LF 125 kHz RFID chip.
First, a participant pays a fee—$20 for the first mission and $10 for each subsequent one. Every player receives a Codex wristband containing an EM Microelectronic EM4200 125 kHz LF RFID chip. Each child is also given some gadgets, such as a magnifying glass and a flashlight. Participants can keep the wristband and tools when they leave the museum.

The Children's Museum of Houston worked with Schell Games to develop the scavenger hunt, including software that stores the wristband's unique ID number and links that information to each mission as in which a child participates. Although the software does not collect players' names, it does collect answers to three specific questions—such as "What is your phone number?"—so that a child who loses a wristband can still access his play history and link it to a replacement bracelet.

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