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RFID Tour Guides

Hundreds of tags are helping hikers at Italy's Mont Avic Regional Park learn more about nature.
By Beth Bacheldor
Oct 01, 2007— As nature lovers hike the trails through the Mont Avic Regional Park in the Italian Alps, they're surrounded by hooked pines, beech trees, peat bogs, forest plants, streams, rivers, lakes—and hundreds of RFID tags. While the technology might seem at odds with the natural surroundings, the active tags, affixed to signs and posts, actually enhance the experience by providing information about the fauna and flora to visitors equipped with Hewlett-Packard iPAQ pocket PCs.

"The park used to have actual tour guides, but there was a financial crunch and the question became whether the park could afford the tour guides," says Frank Lanza, worldwide director of RFID for HP's business and IT services arm, HP Services. "The idea was, 'Wouldn't it be nice if we could automate them?'"

The RFID system was built in the lab and tested in the park, to make sure the tags, which have a read range of roughly 33 feet, could withstand harsh environmental conditions. The iPAQs, which have built-in RFID readers, needed to be able to withstand the wear and tear of constant handling.

Visitors can rent the iPAQs for the day at any of the park's welcome centers. As they approach a tagged sign, it triggers a dog's "bark" on the iPAQ, which then displays a multimedia presentation that typically includes a short film, a selection of photographs, and text about the area's plants and wildlife. The iPAQ can also be used to get trail directions and updates on route changes.

Park officials say visitors have been very enthusiastic about the electronic guides, preferring them to paper guidebooks or pamphlets. In fact, the project has been so successful, it is now being considered by other national parks and even museums.
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