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Farmers Develop RFID System to Protect Children, Animals

A group of farming families is testing 433 MHz battery-powered wristbands and readers, to be sold this fall, in order to protect kids and pets from farm machinery and vehicles.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 11, 2011When the Weckers, a Canadian farming family from Saskatchewan, visited Europe two years ago, they witnessed an RFID-based child-safety system for protecting children or pets from the hazards of farm-operated machinery and vehicles. Upon returning home, the family learned that the technology would not meet Canadian RFID regulations, and that it was also priced too high. After discussing the technology with two other farming families in their community—with one family member having an electrical engineering background—the Weckers decided to start their own company, in order to develop an inexpensive solution for North American users.

This summer, the three families' new company, known as Prairie Tech Enterprises, is testing a prototype of the solution, dubbed WhereAbouts, and intends to market it later this year to farmers, as well as to individuals who make deliveries to farms. The system's hardware was designed for the application by RFID Canada, a firm based in Markham, Ontario, near Toronto. WhereAbouts features an active RFID wristband worn by children or pets, which transmits to readers installed on vehicles. When a vehicle comes within range of a wristband tag, the interrogator receives an alert and flashes a warning light, while also sounding an alarm. The driver can then stop the vehicle and ensure that the area is clear before proceeding.

The WhereAbouts 433 MHz RFID tag is about the size of a watch.

The solution is designed to prevent the types of accidents that can sometimes prove fatal for those in the vicinity of farm equipment—whether small children playing, or pets that may wander into a dangerous area. Most farms not only have their own machinery to worry about, but also delivery trucks bringing equipment and supplies, or picking up milk or other farm products on a regular basis.

To determine whether the company's patent-pending WhereAbouts system would prevent accidents, Prairie Tech's partners are currently testing the prototype in farm settings, according to Wendy Wecker, one of the company's cofounders. The proprietary active 433 MHz RFID tag is approximately the length and width of a watch, though twice the thickness. The tag is mounted on a flexible plastic band that can be attached to a child's wrist or belt loop, or fastened to a pet's collar.

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