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Australian Race-Timing Company Finds Battery-assisted UHF Tags a Winning Solution

RFID Race Timing Systems reports that for tracking race competitors, the EPC Gen 2 BAP tags offer a greater read range, faster read rates and a lower cost than LF.
By Dave Friedlos
Aug 05, 2010Battery-assisted ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags will soon replace traditional passive low-frequency (LF) tags for tracking racers in running and cycling events, says Andrew Peterson, the director of RFID Race Timing Systems.

Last October, the Australian company launched its Ultra solution—a UHF RFID system using battery-assisted passive (BAP) EPC Gen 2 tags. UHF has many advantages over traditional LF tags when tracking race competitors, Peterson says, including a greater read range, faster read rates and lower costs. He predicts that UHF could be used in up to 90 percent of racing events within the next few years.

RFID Race Timing Systems’ Ultra BAP RFID system was used to track more than 10,450 participants in the HBF Run for a Reason, held in Perth on May 23.

Ultra has already been used in a number of races in Australia, including the Melbourne Marathon, which attracted more than 4,000 competitors, and the Perth Run for a Reason, which drew 8,600 participants. It is also being utilized at this weekend's Avon Descent, Australia's premier whitewater-racing event for paddle crafts and motorboats. Tags will be attached to competitors' helmets and, with a read range of up to 50 meters (164 feet), just one reader with an antenna beaming across the river's width is required at the finishing line in Perth.

Peterson says he first examined the use of UHF RFID for race timing approximately four years ago, because of its potential for improved read rates.

"We have a LF system operating at 134 kHz, but the problem is that you can get tag collision, and require multiple readers at the finishing line to read multiple tags," Peterson explains. "With UHF, we could get faster read rates of up to 300 tags a second. But when we did test it, it did not work too well when next to the human body, because water in the body can detune the tags. UHF was not designed for people-tracking, and LF was the technology of choice."

While RFID Race Timing Systems abandoned UHF in favor of traditional LF tags, companies such as ChronoTrack Systems and MyLaps developed UHF tags that attach to a competitor's shoelace, thereby avoiding the problems caused by the tags coming into contact with the skin (see Gen 2 Tags Track Runner, Motorcycle Speeds and UHF Solution Tracks 42,000 Runners at the New York City Marathon). This, however, was not an ideal solution, Peterson says, as it required sending racers a separate bib and transponder, and the shoe tags were not "idiot-proof."

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