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RFID Heads for the End Zone

Testing of the technology at the Super Bowl showed promise for tracking video equipment.
By Claire Swedberg
That data was then sent wirelessly via a Wi-Fi connection to a laptop computer on site. OATSystems' OAT Foundation Suite software was installed on the laptop to manage and track the equipment's RFID tag information. Using this software, Bexel personnel were able to determine who took a particular piece of equipment, and where it was located within the production compound, by searching data on the laptop. This process ensured that no expensive video equipment would end up missing.

The system certainly proved its worth in one way: Because it was raining on the days leading up to the game, equipment was loaded on pallets and stored under tarps. Normally, Nagpal explains, that situation would have required personnel to lift tarps and sort through all the items to find the correct piece of equipment for each crewmember. With the handheld, they were able to save time by interrogating items' tags without having to lift the tarp.

"It worked well enough," says Porter, though the SVG saw where it would need to make changes for the next pilot. One addition will be to add fixed RFID readers at chokepoints where equipment enters and leaves the storage area. "We will need readers at forklifts and gates," Porter says, explaining that "the handhelds didn't work well enough" because the crew did not always wait to have their equipment read by the interrogator. Production crews come through the space in a hurry, he adds, "and they don't want anything to get in their way." By having fixed RFID readers in addition to the handhelds, SVG will no longer need to make crews wait to have the equipment tags interrogated.

"We also had issues with some of the gear and tags," Porter recalls. The scanning worked on the cases, but not on the equipment itself through the cases. "In the next generation," he says, "we'll have to do more advanced testing for item-level tagging."

Ultimately, says Porter, "We learned it's doable, it will work and there is a high level of interest from the broadcasters." Still, he admits, there's one other unresolved issue: "Who's going to pay for it?" Nonetheless, Porter believes the cost of tags should not be a deterrent. "You're looking at very expensive equipment," he points out, including cameras and lenses that can cost more than $100,000 each.

Bexel's Estroff agrees. "There's potential there," he says, adding that Bexel would like the system to track equipment in a server-based environment so he can see where an item is from his own office by logging onto a secure site. In the Super Bowl pilot, the laptop did not connect to a server.

This spring, SVG plans to publish a complete case study about the Super Bowl pilot in Sports Technology Journal, its industry engineering publication.

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