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RFID Works for Big Brother

British reality program Celebrity Big Brother is using Wavetrend active RFID tags to track the movements of the show's participants.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 07, 2009When British reality TV program Celebrity Big Brother—which chronicles the activities of 11 celebrities living together in the same house—launched its new season this year, it took advantage of a new tool to mine data and entertain the public: radio frequency identification. With RFID technology, the show's creator, a company known as Endemol, can provide viewers with additional details regarding the celebrity participants, which include singer LaToya Jackson, rapper Coolio and British weather forecaster Ulrika Jonsson.

Each celebrity appearing on Celebrity Big Brother wears a battery-powered RFID tag. With reads captured from interrogators deployed throughout the Big Brother house, the show's producers can gather and analyze data regarding where, and with whom, participants spend their time, with graphs and diagrams supporting the results. "It adds a geeky fact file on things," says Gareth Collett, the series' executive producer. The system was provided by RFID technology supplier Wavetrend.

Each cast member wears a wireless mike (shown here attached to Ulrika Jonsson's belt) containing an active RFID tag from Wavetrend.
When the show began its 2009 season following a year-long hiatus, Collett says, the producers sought a new method for providing viewers with more detail and entertainment. They came upon the idea of RFID technology, and approached Wavetrend in November 2008. Wavetrend had provided people-monitoring data for previous television programs in the United Kingdom, but is better known for its applications for tracking computer servers or other IT equipment.

Wavetrend had three weeks to design and install the RFID system in the show's approximately 10-room house, explains the company's CEO, Saleem Miyan. The system was installed by Dec. 15, 2008, when producers began a pilot program for the new series, and went live on Jan. 4, 2009, when the program first aired to an audience of 6 million viewers.

To provide a system that can display and track the locations of participants 24 hours a day for the duration of the three-week program, Wavetrend installed 15 interrogators throughout the house. The company mounted several readers on the ceiling in one large room, as well as on rooftops, in order to pinpoint a celebrity's location outside, in the garden. The program provides each cast member with a wireless microphone that can be worn around the neck, or attached to a belt. Wavetrend embedded one of its RFID tags in each wireless mike. Each tag's RFID chip transmits a unique number identifying its wearer.

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