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U.K. Government Supports Using RFID to Fight Bike Thefts

The system uses motion-detecting active 433 MHz RFID tags, in conjunction with security cameras, to inform police when a bicycle is moved without authorization.
By Rhea Wessel
At that point, guards monitoring the cameras view the real-time image of the person attempting to move the bike, and compare it with the stored photo. Bike owners can also submit images of their friends who are allowed to use their bicycles, and guards can check these photos against the actual picture on the screen. Alternatively, the system can automatically transmit the photo and details to the mobile telephone handset of an officer on the street, who can then respond. In any of these scenarios, if a mismatch is found, the guard can begin running to catch the suspected thief.

The locks not only function as deterrents, Weaver says, but also produce recorded, on-camera evidence that can be useful in prosecuting thieves in court. "The major problem with monitoring systems is that the camera is being used for something else and looks in the other direction," he says, referring to CCTV's inability to monitor all areas at all times.

A one-month trial of the system was conducted in October of last year. Fifty people now use the system, including students, faculty and staff members, as well as a few individuals unassociated with the university. Interrogators have been added to a second high-crime area to expand the places where the system can be employed. Later, as the system is further expanded, high-crime zones around the country are slated to be turned into WASP-secured areas as well.

Since the trial began, none of the WASP-secured bicycles have been tampered with or stolen. Many students have thus begun relying on the visual deterrent of the WASP module, Weaver says, and have stopped logging into the system. "One big problem is getting students to log into the system," he explains. "We're having a campaign once a week—we send out an SMS message to users—to encourage students to log in and log out."

The WASP system was offered to students for free, with the support of government funding and the university, but SOS Response is starting to charge a nominal fee of 20 pence ($0.40) for the monitoring service. "If they have to pay," Weaver says, "users value a system more and will log in and out." He notes that the system has attracted a lot of media attention and generated requests from other organizations, such as universities, train stations and local authorities. "We're just coming to the end of our development cycle," he states, "and are packaging the system and taking it to market as a commercial product."

The cost of the commercial version depends on the configuration—i.e., the number of tags needed and the number of safety zones to be created. Individual black-and-yellow sensor tags sell for around £50 ($99) apiece, while interrogators start at £500 ($987) and a license for the software costs £1,500 ($2,960) for small-volume hardware orders. According to Weaver, companies purchasing and installing the system can have 50 percent of their costs reimbursed by the government's cycle initiative.

"I am pleased with the initial trial," Fairbrother says, "but I anticipate a much greater impact when the system is expanded to other areas and many more locks are being used."

SOS Response offers a similar asset-monitoring system for homes and businesses. It features a CCTV camera and an RFID interrogator in one box, connected to a monitoring service. "The system is a wired/wireless package that comes with everything you need, such as a PC controller and software," Weaver says. SOS Response, he adds, is also developing a range of tag housings that can be fitted on most high-valued assets. Cell phones can be used to control the system, or it can be connected to an alarm system. "You just need power and a Wi-Fi link to monitor your home."

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