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IPICO Enters Race for RFID Sports Timing

Starting with the 48,000-runner BolderBoulder race, IPICO Sports plans to deploy more than 400,000 passive tags and 500 readers over the next two years.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
IPICO's claims that its competitor's timing systems are three times more expensive are false, Verhoef says, though he cannot provide specific pricing for the ChampionChip product, since that is set by the distributors. Tom Kelley, director of race scoring for the New York Road Runners (NYRR), the organization behind the New York City Marathon, says that while he's been happy with the ChampionChip system and its performance, he plans to attend the BolderBoulder this spring to learn more about IPICO's offering. "We're open to new technology," he says, "even though we've gotten no complaints about ChampionChip."

Kelley notes that it will be tough for IPICO, or any other new entrant, to break into the sports timing market. The network of timing providers around the world provide and service the ChampionChip system, he explains, and have already made a large investment in it.

IPICO recently launched IPICO Sports through an agreement with Mercury Sports Group, a sports technology development company based in Peoria, Ill. Under the agreement, Mercury Sports Group is now doing business as IPICO Sports and is the exclusive distributor of IPICO's RFID tag and reader systems for sports timekeeping applications.

Thus far, the main applications for IPICO's passive and active RFID technology have been in the areas of asset tracking, transportation and logistics, and supply chains. However, IPICO has been looking for an entrance into sports timekeeping in the North American market for some time, and has been in discussions with Mercury Sports for the past three years, according to IPICO's president, Gordon Westwater. Outside North America, IPICO has tested its tags and interrogators for timekeeping at sporting events in Europe and South America, as well as in South Africa, where the technology was field-tested at the Cape Epic mountain bike race, an eight-day, 900-km (559-mile) cross-country event involving 1,000 participants. IPICO's Australian office, Westwater adds, has deployed the technology for several marathons in Sydney and Brisbane as well.

During the next two years, IPICO Sports plans to deploy more than 500 readers, 1,000 mats and 400,000 passive shoe tags to fulfill the agreement, which requires a minimum aggregate revenue to IPICO Inc. of $6 million during the initial 24 months of the contract.

According to Kelley, AMB—a firm that got its start providing active RFID tags for Formula 1 racing and supplies active tags for major road cycling races as well, including the Tour de France—is trying to break into the road running market. AMB's active tag, however, is heavier and more costly than passive tags. French company DAG sells a 13.56 MHz passive timekeeping system for running and other types of races, but its tag is worn inside the racer's bib and the antennas are built into frames surrounding the read points.

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