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Startup Offers 'Fail-safe' RFID Race-Timing System

Using ruggedized EPC Gen 2 tags and redundant components, the company says it has created an affordable, reliable system for timing many different events, from canoe races to triathlons.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Sep 24, 2008Innovative Timing Systems, a startup company located in St. Louis, is offering an RFID-based race-timing solution that it claims is more dependable that any other currently on the market. The system, the company recently announced, employs EPC Gen 2 passive UHF RFID inlays and interrogators manufactured by Alien Technology.

The RFID-based Jaguar Race Timing system was born of necessity, says Kurt Hansen, Innovative Timing Systems' founder and president. "We started development of the product two years ago," he explains, "when a friend of mine purchased another RFID-based system that failed him miserably on a race day." That person asked Hansen to apply his background in RF engineering toward helping him to identify a better timing system. Hansen and his friend, devoted Ironman athletes, both worked as race organizers and wanted to find an affordable, fail-proof system for timing a variety of events, from canoe races to mountain bike races to triathlons.

For races that do not include swimming, the Jaguar system uses the Alien Squiggle inlay embedded in a race bib.
"We looked at Championchip, at AMB, but we could not find a system that we thought could meet our needs," Hansen says. "While those systems work, we wanted the use of disposable RFID tags, with a lower total cost of ownership, and we wanted a system that could do more than just read tags, but a fully integrated system with all you need to put on a race, including racer registration and real-time results. And it needed to be used in harsh conditions." In the end, Hansen decided to develop his own timing product, and thus founded Innovative Timing Systems.

Hansen's is one of many EPC Gen 2 based race-timing systems that have emerged on the timing market in recent years, each of which is intended to dislodge the dominant RFID timing systems sold by Championchip and other companies. These older systems are based on reusable RFID tags in a hard plastic housing, which racers generally attach to a shoelace, and which are then interrogated by reader antennas embedded in mats over which competitors pass at the start and finish lines, as well as at read points along a course.

Other startups selling UHF-based systems include Racetimer (see UHF Enters the Timing Race) and ChronoTrack (see Gen 2 Tags Track Runner, Motorcycle Speeds). Hansen claims his Jaguar Race Timing solution differs from other, similar offerings in that it has been engineered to have multiple redundancies in terms of the hardware components used. Each reading point installed as part of the Jaguar Race Timing solution includes a backup reader unit, backup reader antennas and a backup electricity source that can be tapped if the power grid or generator used to operate the system fails during an event.

In addition, Hansen says, the Jaguar system employs customized, rugged reader antennas that can be used in extreme weather, and in a wide range of applications. "We have been able to time a trail run in a snow storm," he states, "and there are certain situations where the race organizer wants to set up read zones close to each other, and this would create interference with standard antennas."

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