Marathon tag

June 24, 2015

50,000+ Opportunities to delight customers on the run

Sport mass event organizers now have access to a simple, robust, and cost-effective technology. It enables them not only to offer accurate timing information, but can also make their events unique, by providing an enriched, multi-platform experience to those taking part.

Running is a major participation sport today, and organizing such enormous mass-participation events is certainly a challenge – events involving 10,000 or more participants are almost impossible to time manually, and huge crowds at the start line mean that an individual participant can lose precious seconds or even minutes before they actually reach the start of the course.

Seasoned runners tend to use the latest technology, in terms of clothing, shoes, smartphone apps to monitor their physical status, GPS to monitor their progress, as well as timing devices – but they still want to challenge themselves and get the most out of their experience.

Many participants are already up to speed with the latest technology, therefore organizers have to work really hard to offer them a unique experience. So, beyond the absolute priority of providing accurate timing information in real time to thousands of participants, how can event organizers engage runners more fully, to give them a more rewarding experience? More importantly, how can they provide added value to the runners’ experience without breaking the bank?

The use of RFID technology offers organizers a low-cost means of not only providing accurate timing information to runners in real time, but also many extra services that add value to the whole event and to the participants’ experience.

RFID technology leads the race
Traditionally, races were either timed by hand, with operators pressing a stopwatch, or by using video camera systems – an obvious challenge for organizers, when tens of thousands of participants are running past the finish line! For example, the first New York Marathon in 1970 looped through Central Park several times, and featured 127 entrants, of whom 55 crossed the finish line. Since then, the race has grown massively – the 2014 New York City Marathon broke records again, with 50,000+ people finishing the race – all using Smartrac inlays.

RFID transponder timing (also known as chip timing or RFID timing) has been adopted to provide the answer to both participants’ high expectations, and the competitive challenges organizers have to face. The technology provides timing information that is accurate, independent of human input, and able to cope with thousands of timing signals. Perhaps more importantly, such UHF inlays are extremely cheap to produce – so cheap that they can be thrown away at the end of the race.

The concept is simple: each participant is given a race bib equipped with an RFID transponder, which emits a unique code that is detected by antennas positioned at strategic points around the course or track.

The antennas are connected to a decoder, which identifies the unique transponder code and calculates the exact time elapsed when the transponder passes a timing point. Some timing systems require the use of a mat on the ground at the timing points, while other systems install timing points that use vertically oriented readers.

The technology has already matured greatly since it was first used: the size of the RFID inlay used in sports timing has decreased from A4 size to less than 10x3cm, and the gates used for recording time signals, which used to be around 1 meter wide, can now be of virtually unlimited width.

Benefits for organizers and participants alike
Aside from providing independent timing information down to fractions of a second, using this technology provides many added benefits.

  • The technology is extremely cost-effective, so runners can keep their bibs as event souvenirs, or simply throw them away.
  • Participants can register online in advance, and receive their race bib containing the UHF inlay. They can register their arrival at the event right up until the start of the event, using a simple reader, avoiding the need to turn up hours in advance of the start time. 
  • Timing information can be made available in real time – either for organizers to post on their website, or for participants to see how they’re doing, or to post updates to their followers on social media. 
  • Combining timing information with the GPS functionality found in many smartphones can be used to keep spectators in touch with the runners they've come to watch. Visitors can use their own smartphones to see exactly where each runner is during the entire race, and view data about the race. This information can also be made available on external websites for others to view.
  • To further enhance the experience for runners, as well as for their friends and families, the technology can also be used to provide personalized messages on an LED screen. Within seconds of any ID number passing an antenna, a video of friends or family, or a message of support, can be flashed up on a large screen to give the runner a much-needed boost.
  • Photos and videos of individual participants can be identified quickly and easily, either for participants to post online, or for release to media outlets. 
  • Multiple timing stations are easy to set up, because UHF inlays have long read ranges. This also offers the potential for increased sponsorship and advertising opportunities, as individuals can be tracked around a course with complete precision. For the event organizers, increasing the engagement of both participants and corporate sponsors is becoming a science, rather than an art.

Major sporting event organizers around the world face the same challenges, and other sporting disciplines, including motor racing, triathlon, skiing, speed-skating and cycling also rely on split-second timing to determine the outcome of races. The use of RFID technology offers the same benefits, no matter what event.

Simple, robust and cost-effective – Smartrac’s DogBone Inlays with the new Monza R6 from Impinj
One of the most cost-competitive and high-performance UHF products for mass timing applications are Smartrac’s DogBone inlays and tags, now available with the new Monza R6 chip. The DogBone inlay is designed to deliver high performance in demanding environments and on different materials, so is ideally suited for applications such as sports timing.

This is partly due to the design of the inlay’s antenna. The human body is very challenging object to tag at the best of times, and during sporting events, the tag’s operating conditions change dramatically due to the presence of sweat, and sometimes rain. Moisture poses serious problems for standard RFID tags, but the DogBone inlay is designed to work in the most demanding conditions of humidity and even in the presence of water.

The new Monza R6 chip also has an Autotune feature, which helps the DogBone inlay to work at peak efficiency, even in rapidly changing environments. Add in Smartrac’s manufacturing experience, and the new Monza R6-equipped DogBone inlay in combination, offers an extremely effective way of tagging mass participation events.

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