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RFID Captures the Action on Hawaiian Zip Line

Princeville Ranch Adventure Tours uses Snapsportz, an automated photography system, to boost revenue and improve customer service.
By Samuel Greengard
Tags: Retail
Oct 26, 2014

While smartphone cameras have changed how people document activities and events and share images, "a lot of people desire high-quality pictures that transcend anything they can capture with their phone or point-and-shoot cameras," says Ben Kottke, who has worked as an action sports photographer and cinematographer since 2001. Kottke, like many professional photographers, frequently found himself perched on mountains and along various rivers and routes in order to capture images manually. In many instances, photographers snap pictures using a high-resolution setting with a wide-angle lens, and someone later crops and blows up the digital images to showcase specific individuals.

Roughly seven years ago, Kottke says, "I realized that it wasn't necessary to physically be present to take photographs. It was a waste of time, money and human resources." While researching technologies for an automated photography system, he noticed that some ski resorts were beginning to employ radio frequency identification to track skiers and manage lifts. "I realized that I could use RFID to replace myself and actually increase the number of photo stations," he says.

Visitors can use the system to take photographs of themselves zip-lining, and to later retrieve those photos.
Kottke's idea led to Snapsportz Media, an RFID solution that automates the image-capture process. RFID tags are attached to commonly worn items—such as clothing, helmets and wristbands—and are interrogated by RFID readers that link to strategically placed cameras and a computer. The company, based on Maui, Hawaii, sells the digital images and makes it easy for customers to post them on social-media sites.

During the winter of 2009, Kottke and a team of developers assembled a basic prototype system at Powder Mountain, a ski resort located east of Eden, Utah. The idea was to sell digital images online to snowboarders and skiers within the terrain park. That project lasted from December to March 2010. In the summer of that year, Kottke began marketing the system to sporting events.

In 2012, Snapsportz unveiled a dramatically improved system developed for the challenging zip-line environment at Princeville Ranch Adventure Tours, in Kauai, which also offers hiking and horseback riding to more than 25,000 tourists annually. That system now serves as the technology foundation for other implementations; the company customizes projects based on customers' needs. Snapsportz has established a social-media partnership with Nike Action Sports to photograph snowboarding contests and other action sports events.

"The goal is provide a richer experience for the participant," Kottke says. "It's not just about snapping a photograph. It's about capturing the entire experience through a series of shots. We're trying to replicate what a professional photographer would do, but there's no way a photographer can sit on a mountain or stay perched along a zip-line route and snap pictures of everyone on a consistent basis. The technology takes the concept to an entirely different dimension. It creates a more affordable and better way to capture high-resolution actions shots."

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