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Chabot Space & Science Center Uses RFID to Teach Environmental Science

The California museum's new Bill Nye's Climate Lab exhibition incorporates EPC RFID technology, enriching the way in which visitors interact with the exhibits.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
If a visitor later returns to the Climate Lab exhibition at the Chabot Science Center—bringing the Climate Scout ID card provided during his or her initial visit—the Longwave software will recognize that person's RFID tag and bring up the same profile established on that prior visit and also called up on the Web site.

While designing the Climate Lab, Chabot's main objective was to find a technology that would allow visitors to seamlessly move between exhibits, while also providing the museum with a means of tracking each user's progress, and storing in a database the solutions that each individual has earned. The science center ultimately selected RFID over other automatic-identification technologies, such as bar-coded or magnetic-stripe cards, because it was the easiest for visitors to use. "Kids could have a hard time reading mag stripes, and bar-code scanners were ruled out because of safety concerns over children looking up into the laser," Samber explains. "There were initially some health concerns about using RFID, but we checked the ambient levels of RF in the exhibition room before and after readers were put in, and there is no place where the levels of RF were even close to the FDA's maximum exposure suggestions over a 15-minute period."

Schwarz notes that because the Climate Lab marks the first time RFID has been employed in a Chabot exhibit, there were some learning pains. "Figuring out how to meet the needs of technology, and defining the read zones and making that work with the exhibits themselves, was a challenge," she states. Some revisions were required on the exhibits so that the read zone could be properly calibrated, and so that interactions with the exhibits were well timed with the read events. "We had to consider the placement of the readers in relation to the interactive parts of the exhibit, and how the [data capture] would work with 15 different people milling around." Additionally, the designers had to spend a number of hours working with the Alien readers, in order to set the proper read range for each exhibit. "We were taking something that is made for boxes on pallets, and it's very different when you're dealing with people in a tight space, and kids flitting around like bees," Schwarz says in regard to the RFID hardware.

Ultimately, Schwarz says, the work paid off, and she is now considering using RFID in similar ways for future exhibits, as well. "With the Climate Lab," she explains, "the fact that there is this payoff, in the form of points, changes the way visitors are interacting. They are slowing down, they are paying attention to what they are doing and they are thinking about how they are supposed to complete the activity. In a lot of science-center exhibitions, you see kids running up to something, pushing a button and, if they don't immediately figure it out, running on to the next thing. With the rewards, people are more concerned with figuring things out."

Longwave hosts the main database of tag numbers and user profiles, and also tested and selected the RFID hardware used for the exhibition. Samber says notes that his firm, armed with the experiences Longwave has collected by developing the software architecture and RFID system design for the Climate Lab, now hopes to develop similar RFID-based solutions for other museums.


Lynne Lehmer 2010-12-12 08:07:11 AM
Contact Bill Nye Hi. How can I contact Bill Nye. I want to bring more science to Elkhart County, IN. I don't know if I can install my article, but here I will try. http://www.examiner.com/public-transit-travel-in-south-bend/if-i-were-the-public-transit-god-for-northern-indiana It didn't go as a link, but read it if you want. Elkhart county is in very northern Indiana. It has been hit hard by the economy problem. I have an idea and put it forth in this article. I don't think people around here think like me, so I am looking out of this area for ideas.
Rich Handley 2010-12-13 07:28:49 AM
Contacting Bill Nye The quickest way to contact Bill Nye would be through his site, http://www.billnye.com. There's a "Contact Bill" button on the top right of the page.

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