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Tracking Temperatures From the Inside Out

Organizers of the Netherlands' Four Day Marches are using RFID-enabled sensor pills to monitor the risk of heat sickness, with help from a firm that is developing an application for analyzing athletes' temperature and location in real time.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Each HQ tag, Bakkers says, transmits a unique identification number, as well as the body temperature. This data was encrypted to protect the volunteer's privacy, and the Apama software decrypted it upon receiving it via the cellular link. The decrypted data showed researchers the participant's name (based on the ID), temperature and location.

The researchers were able to view a map of the course on which an icon represented each of the 10 volunteers. A green icon indicated a normal temperature range, while any that turned red would have denoted dangerously high temps. Although none of the 10 volunteers came close to overheating during this year's event (the weather was mild), the system was set up to transmit a text alert to the phone of any participant who became dangerously hot.

The remaining 100 walkers stopped at designated rest points, where medical personnel used the same type of HQ handheld reader to take manual readings of the tags. According to Bakkers, the temperature sensor is highly accurate—it even rose by half a degree Celsius when participants wore raincoats during part of the event.

Maria Hopman
To determine a volunteer's health, the Apama software correlated the body temperature with that person's height, weight and other personal statistics. But it could also factor in additional metrics, such as the body temperatures of walkers who were, say, further ahead on the course. This could prove useful for future events if, for instance, the core temperature of a greater number of phone-carrying event participants were to be monitored remotely and in real time. If the data showed a number of monitored participants exhibiting dangerously high temperatures, Bakkers explains, the software could issue the text messages to walkers farther back in the field, advising them to drink more fluids or shed layers of clothing.

The high cost of the handheld RFID reader and mobile phone, Bakkers says, limited the quantity used during this year's event. HQ, he notes, is currently developing a version of the reader that will include a GPRS and GPS module that will transit tag and sensor data, along with location, to back-end software. The device will also be about half the size of a conventional cellular phone, which Bakkers believes will make it small enough to be comfortably carried by elite marathoners, cyclists or other athletes whose health coaches want to be able to remotely monitor during events.

Professional and collegiate football teams currently utilize HQ pills and readers during summer workouts to keep an eye on players susceptible to heatstroke—a condition that has claimed the lives of athletes in the past. Remotely monitoring the health and location of athletes using RFID combined with GPS data is a big diversion from the supply chain applications for which Progress Software has utilized its complex-event processing software in the past, but Bakkers says the company sees a good market opportunity in the application.

"All the technology in our portfolio at the moment is suitable for these applications," Bakkers states. "It does not matter where the events occur—the software is great at analyzing events and creating predictions based on the data."

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