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RFID Scores Well at TopGolf's Newest Entertainment Complex

The driving range employs 200,000 golf balls containing passive EPC Gen 2 tags read at 548 points along the fairway, to help golfers view their scores in real time.
By Claire Swedberg
UHF technology is being used at the Allen facility, as well as at two other Texas sites scheduled to open this year in Houston and Austin. The shift to UHF, says Chris Wagner, an engineer in TopGolf's research, development and technology group, met the company's desire to upgrade the automated scoring system with off-the-shelf components. In contrast with LF technology, he explains, the UHF system provides a wider read range, so that instead of needing to be read within a 2-inch area defined by a receptacle, each UHF RFID antenna creates a "cloud," or read area, closer to 12 inches in diameter—its range the result of size constraints of the RFID tag within the ball—and can be placed directly in the ground at the fairway, rather than within a small receptacle. Whether LF or UHF RFID technology is involved, the experience is largely the same for players, Wagner says—in both cases, they can view their scores on an LCD screen, based on the zone reached. The company intends to replace its existing LF solutions when the time is right, he adds, noting that altogether, TopGolf's six older facilities are currently using 400,000 balls containing LF tags.

At TopGolf's site in Allen, each ball contains an inlay from UPM RFID, made with an Impinj Monza 3 tag, and converted by Vanguard ID Systems. By using a standards-based UHF system instead of its own proprietary technology, Wagner says, TopGolf will no longer need to rely on a single company for RFID hardware and replacement parts. What's more, the UHF solution requires fewer readers, since many read points can be connected to a lone UHF interrogator, while the LF system requires a reader for each read point.

Each of the 94 hitting bays is equipped with an RFID-enabled ball dispenser.

Every one of TopGolf's fairways contains a series of close-, mid- and long-range target greens. Each player receives 20 golf balls for a game, and earns points by hitting the balls to zones within the target green, with higher points awarded for balls landing closer to the pin. The player with the most points at the end of 20 balls wins. TopGolf offers several other games featuring different scoring rules, all utilizing radio frequency identification.

Upon first arriving at the Allen site, a player receives a card with his name printed on it, and encoded in the card's magnetic stripe. The player and his party report to one of 94 hitting bays, each equipped with an RFID-enabled ball dispenser. The visitor first swipes his card's magnetic stripe across the card reader, which sends that individual's ID number to TopGolf's Game Play software, residing on the company's database. He can then wave his golf club in front of the dispenser, which is equipped with an optical motion sensor. Once the motion sensor detects that movement, the dispenser releases a ball. Each ball is equipped with an Impinj Monza 3 RFID tag chip with a unique EPC number encoded on it. That ID is captured by the reader, and Thinkify software links that number to the target zone ID and forwards it to the back-end system, where software provided by Infonaligy links the player with that specific ball and hitting bay. Other players then go through the same process.

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