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RFID Is On the Money

British TV game show The Million Pound Drop tracks bundles of cash to create a more exciting experience for contestants and home viewers.
By Samuel Greengard
Feb 20, 2012—Wander onto the set of the British television program The Million Pound Drop, and you are certain to see a wide variety of props and equipment required to create a dazzling game-show experience: custom-designed furniture, specialized lighting, state-of-the-art cameras and powerful computers used to manage everything from graphics to music. What you won't be able to see is a radio frequency identification solution working behind the scene to track 40 bundles of £25,000 ($39,400) that make up the £1 million ($1.6 million) used on the show.

Each contestant, paired up with a friend, receives £1 million at the start of an episode. While attempting to correctly answer eight questions, each with four multiple-choice answers, the partners move money around and place bets on the Drop—a device containing four trapdoors on which the answers to each question are displayed. A chute door opens and "drops" the money into a container below if they answer incorrectly.

An RFID system tracks 40 bundles of £25,000 making up the £1 million used on the series.

The series, broadcast live across the United Kingdom, uses tight camera angles to let contestants and home viewers see where the money is located. In the past, a control-room technician watched webcams mounted on set to visually count the cash sitting atop each trapdoor. As the contestants shuffled the money around, the technicians struggled to keep up and display the correct amount of money onscreen. The show's host, U.K. celebrity Davina McCall, would ask contestants if they were sure of their bet, as a way to build tension while also biding time for the money counter. "It was a task that required fast action and created the possibility for error," says Declan Begley, the business development manager at Harland Simon, the RFID systems designer and integrator behind the deployment.

The RFID solution—which was taken live in December 2011, for the start of the show's sixth season—has eliminated the need to hand-count the cash and manually track it as contestants move the money around the set. "RFID not only helps the contestants play the game, it makes the game a lot faster and more engaging for the viewers at home," says Mark Wass, the technical project manager at Cat and Mouse, the company that handles live studio graphics and software for the TV show.

"The goal was to use RFID when the show went live five years ago," Begley states. "Unfortunately, it wasn't possible to make it work at that time. But the present system has made a significant impact and improved the show in a measurable way."
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