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World's Largest Cruise Ship Launches RFID-based Passenger-Tracking System

Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas is renting out iPhones and wristbands with Wi-Fi RFID tags to help families and groups locate their members.
By Claire Swedberg
DeFi hired Ekahau to provide a Wi-Fi-based tracking solution with tags that could transmit a unique ID number to the vessel's existing Wi-Fi nodes. Ekahau's software determines each tag's location within 10 to 15 feet, based on signal strength and data related to tag movement, in order to predict in which direction that individual is moving. The tag's ID number, along with its location, is forwarded to the DeFi Royal Connect software, running on a back-end server. According to John Shoemaker, Ekahau's VP of worldwide sales, the DeFi software receives that ID number and forwards the tag's location—and, thereby, that of the individual wearing it—to the appropriate iPhone.

Since its maiden voyage, the ship has continued to make several other trips around the Caribbean, and a number of passengers have rented the tags and iPhone for the duration of their cruise. Thus far, Martin says, "the system has been very well received."

Because the Ekahau tags communicate over a Wi-Fi network, Shoemaker says, they were a good choice for a cruise ship, which already has an existing Wi-Fi network in place, and a cruise line is unlikely to want to install a secondary infrastructure for something like a separate RFID system. Initially, he notes, passengers utilized Ekahau badges that clipped onto clothing or backpacks. However, the company now provides its newly released wristbands, which have the functionality to not only beacon their location (as the badges did), but also receive information from the Wi-Fi nodes in the vicinity if, for instance, the passenger with the iPhone sends an alert. In that case, the signal would be received by the wristband tag, causing it to vibrate. The wristbands are powered with a rechargeable battery. When a one-week cruise is finished, Shoemaker says, the wristbands are collected and the batteries can be recharged.

How the passenger-tracking system will be used in the future has not been fully decided, Martin says. "We are collecting suggestions from guests that use the system on Oasis of the Seas," he explains, "to determine what functions are the most desirable, so we can prioritize the development of new capabilities." According to Martin, options include linking children's wristbands with a youth counselor, who could have his or her own Ekahau badge that comes with two-way messaging and a screen to display text messages. In that way, he says, parents or employees could send messages to the counselor. The ship has begun its deployment with 1,000 tags, but that number could increase, depending on the system's popularity.


Sean Presher-Hughes 2014-11-21 04:55:36 AM
Besides being able to track friends and/or family members aboard cruise ships, surely the system could be made available to track one's own location and be used to find out how to get about on a ship as it is usually very cumbersome for passengers to find their way around aboard a ship with it's maze - like passages. For example one passage rarely leads all the way across from stern to aft! Having been on numerous cruises myself in the past, I often encountered the problem of being able to get from one side of the ship to my cabin or for example, to a restaurant or entertainment venue. The system should entail hot spot areas with computer screens or monitors whereby a bracelet could be tagged and one's present location could be displayed on a map of the ship on the screen. This should be able to assist the passenger in navigating his/her way to a predefined location on board the ship. This can be displayed on the screen or via a small optional print out ticket. eg. Take elevated down to level 3, walk towards the stern and take the flight of stairs down one level. Arrive at the entrance to the Mezzanine Calabash Restaurant. Another use of this application could be to allow passengers to easily find their way to their nearest muster station/s. This application could be referred to as the "Where am I" or "Find my way" application.

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