Tech Talk

June 28, 2013

What happened to the BAP?

PowerTThe Battery Assisted Passive (or BAP) tag really got UHF Gen 2 technology going with sports timing since the tags could be placed very close to the runners skin without any degradation in read performance. The BAP derives it’s power from a patented liquid battery that kept the integrated circuit in a wake state so that more precious back-scatter energy could be used in the tags transmission rather than wasted powering up the internal circuits. The BAP was still not technically an active tag.

There were two things that killed the BAP as a viable tag for sports timing. Firstly the cost of the BAP at around $1 made it an expensive tag to use compared to the smaller and cheaper passive Gen 2 tags coming out from UPM (now Smartrac) and Alien. Secondly the passive Gen 2 tags improved greatly in read sensitivity thanks to the development  of the Monza 4 (and now Monza 5) and Higgs 3 integrated circuit. Passive tags still struggle to read when directly placed on the skin but the separation needed (using a foam spacer) is a lot less these days and does not really bother either the runner or the race organizer. The company PowerID that developed the PowerT BAP went into a hiatus and no longer sells the tag. RFID Race Timing Systems was involved in the early days testing and fine tuning the PowerT but like many R&D projects, this solution turned out to be a dead end. Today the Smartrac and Alien Gen 2 tags are used in the bulk of timed events using UHF technology.

Tech Talk, Uncategorized
May 16, 2012

Tech Talk – One tag Vs Two?

As there is a lot of confusion out there in the timing world in regard to how many tags are needed to successfully time races with the claim “we are best because we only need one tag” touted by some manufacturers.

So in typical RFID Race Timing fashion we aim to clear the smoke and mirrors that these other manufacturers persist  on using and explain the facts as they are.

Anyone who is involved in timing knows this business centrally revolves around risk management. In any mission critical system, the more layers of redundancy, means the risk of something catastrophic going wrong is reduced. The fact that we employ double lines for mass participant starts, patch antenna in the post finish area, manual backup, etc all aim to get race day read statistics closer to the magic 100%.

No system is 100% and those that claim this, are simply not speaking the truth for one reason – The readability of tags at a particular point in time is influenced by the human participants that are wearing them.

Whether the competitor has decided to wear their bib incorrectly, put it in their pocket, carry it in their hand, or even mount it over a large stomach, all of these actions will reduce the RFID signal and possibly prevent a reliable read. The more chances you have in grabbing a read the less chances of missing athletes! Its as simple as that.

The decision to double tag competitors is also part of this equation. It means that the timer doubles the chance of capturing the athlete. When we analyse the data collected in a double tag event we notice that the reads from tag one will happily deliver us with read percentages around the 99.5% mark. The remaining 0.5% is the human effect. The second tag raises the bar and gets us up to better than 99.95% read  rate. At RFID we are always pushing towards that magic mark of perfection: 100%. That’s why we recommend double tagging and because of the low cost structure of tags it is not that more expensive.

This decision, however is entirely at the discretion of the timers, and they need to assess the risk factors presented to each event. Factors like what are the weather conditions, how many participants, density of participants, hardware setup, manual backup available, even the nature of the competitors.

In a recent news item about a major US Marathon, the manufacturer of the system boasting about using single tags stated, “that they did not miss one athlete….in the elite section”. This was certainly choosing words carefully, the elite being an infinitely smaller field (29 entrants of which 18 posted finish times). The same claim was not extended to the whole field of twenty two thousand other competitors!

How many were missed here?

The difference between 99.5 and 99.95 over the 22,500 participants is 100 people going home without a time. If this is acceptable then one tag is just fine, but if you are the athlete, seriously is an extra 30 cents good insurance against being missed ? (that would of course be $1 plus with the other systems due to their inflated tag prices).

The bottom line is all systems will work with one tag. All the main manufacturers are using quality components and in reality their technical abilities are all reasonably similar. So there is no dramatic advantage of one system over another with regard to tag numbers.

It all depends on what the timer is prepared to live with in regards to missed reads, and what redundancies they have in place. Risk management must take all the factors into account, and if price constraints mean that only one tag is called for then other redundancies must be in place to ensure that tags are read to a satisfactory percentage.

At the end of the race the questions have to be answered to those with missed times.

Are you prepared to tell them it happened because you decided to skimp on 30 cents?


Post note. RFID Race timing has no financial agenda in selling more tags as we sell an open system capable of reading any Gen 2 RFID tag on the market. Our motivation in double tagging is in providing our timers with the knowledge so they can do all in their power to provide an excellent service aiming at perfection.

RFID News, Tech Talk, Uncategorized
January 17, 2012

New RFID race cost comparison calculator

Compare the costs of using a RFID Race Timing ULTRA system to those of our competitors.

We don’t lock our customers into using a single tag type like our competitors, hence the opportunity to reduce costs in your timing business is substantial.

Click on the calculator icon and be amazed at the difference it will make to running your events, then contact us to see how we can make a difference to your timing business.

Recent Events, RFID News, Tech Talk, Uncategorized
November 16, 2011

In search of a UHF Multisport tag that works

From the day we produced our first ULTRA we have been acutely aware of the requirement for a UHF multisport tag. This is because events like triathlon that must use a transponder attached to the ankle because a shoe cannot be worn for all disciplines and often a wetsuit is worn right up to the transition between swim and cycle. The problem with passive UHF tags is that water is a major barrier to good read performance. This occurs either due to the tag’s close proximity to the skin or having a wetsuit dripping in salt water wrapped around the transponder. Most attempts at a solution in the past have seen chunky plastic clips used to hold the tag off the skin but this is cumbersome and not effective for wetsuit swims.

RFID Race Timing Systems in conjunction with our agents in USA and Europe have been testing a new special Gen 2 UHF tag with amazing results in triathlon. The tag has been tested and modified by RFID Race Timing Systems to maximize read performance when worn on the ankle. These tags are reliably read using only two antenna ports connected to two side flank antennas either side of a timing point that can be up to 6m wide. The new tag will be officially unveiled in January 2012 at the RFID Race Timing System conference in Florida. Attendees at the European Conference held at Stansted UK were also given a sneak preview of the new multisport tag we call UltraTag.

Tech Talk, Uncategorized
May 25, 2011

Tech Talk – The Great Spacer Debate

There is sometimes confusion over the performance of RFID tags placed on wet objects. This is not a problem for low frequency passive tags used by our HDD System, but for the newer UHF passive tags this can present challenges. Unless race timers use Battery Assisted Passive (BAP) tags, they will need to make allowances for proximity of a passive UHF tag directly next to the liquid-filled, moist human body.

There is no ‘black magic’ here. Even when high performing, industry leading Monza 4 or Higgs 3 ICs are used with the very best dipole designs, passive UHF tags suffer performance problems when directly placed on the human skin. Simply put, it is just physics and the result of detuning and signal loss due to water.

The solution is to space the tag away from the skin with the cheapest electrically inert substance: closed cell foam. Our testing has shown that the spacer needs to be only 2-3 mm thick to guarantee excellent read rates, even when the runner’s race bib is stretched tight against the body – and the singlet dripping wet with sweat.

Some of our competitors claim they don’t need a spacer, yet they have to employ two tags per bib. Even a 1 mm thin PET spacer will help things, but we believe that to get near 100% read rates, some type of thin foam spacer is required to guarantee performance in all racing conditions. Using two tags is also a good insurance policy given that each tag costs less than $0.15 each*. Yes, that’s 15 US pennies, not the exorbitant $1.00 per tag that our competitors are charging!

* Approximate cost of the passive tags that we recommend: Alien Squiggle and UPM Raflatac Dogbone. Adding a spacer adds about $0.04 per tag.

Tech Talk, Uncategorized
March 3, 2011

Tech Talk – Remote Timing

Many large events require real-time scoring from sometimes distant timing points along the course. These times are often shown on a live scoreboard both on the web and at the finish line. While it may sound high-tech to some, it is really not too complex to put timing systems onto an inexpensive and reliable network using the Internet.

The most common way to accomplish this is to use a built-in GPRS modem that utilizes the GSM mobile phone network to send data over the Internet to a remote server which receives this data. An external 3G modem can also be used.  Some savvy timers can even use a 3G Modem Router to use “The Cloud” to send data over the Internet, and many places in Europe have free Wifi connectivity within the area of a timing point. Data can be sent over the Internet to a server that accepts, deciphers, and stores them in a database. This server can then be accessed by any computer via the Internet to pull down this timing data to scoring software at the race finish line. The whole process takes only one or two seconds, so the results effectively appear in real-time.

Some other timing operators have set up a virtual private network (VPN) where the remote modem is connected directly to the finish line as if it were on the same local area network. The setup of a VPN can be complicated, but essentially eliminates the need for a central or ‘repeater’ server saving the data.
We, at RFID Race Timing Systems, offer all of the above solutions to our customers. The Ultra System even has an optional built-in GPRS as well as an HTTP post request, using an external modem.

Tech Talk, Uncategorized
July 22, 2010

Tech Talk – Not all tags are equal

Of the passive transponders on the market there are advantages and disadvantages between types for sports timing. We are often asked to provide a solution that can time everything from running to kayaking and even windsurfing. Each sport has its own requirements in terms of athlete speed, density and where you can put the actual transponder. Some timers wish they could surgically implant a tag in the athlete negating the old complaint, “I left my chip back home”.

Basically there are three frequencies that the bulk of RFID transponders work in, these being low frequency (120 to 140 KHz), high frequency (13.56 MHz) and ultra high frequency (860 to 950 MHz).

The low and high frequency transponders (or tags, as known in the RFID industry) work well in close proximity to water or the human body. They work in the electromagnetic energy region and these waves can pass through water but not metal. This makes these tags ideal for events where the athlete has to wear a tag on the ankle (ie. Triathlon).

On the other hand, UHF uses electrical coupling and these waves can be blocked or detuned by both liquids and metal. A huge investment has been made on UHF tag design to overcome these problems with the best solutions using a small battery to improve backscatter signal, or mechanical means like using a spacer to separate the tag from the offending material. So why do we want to use UHF tags? There are two primary reasons being low cost and huge read rates.

Firstly the UHF tag has the lower cost due to its light weight and ease of manufacture in large quantities. The UHF tags available today pretty much follow the Generation 2 Class 1 EPC protocol which is an industry wide platform adopted by almost all reader and tag manufacturers. Despite some differences in frequency regulations between countries, UHF tags can be read in Europe (866Mhz) as well as in the USA (902-928MHz). This uniformity across the industry has resulted in small passive UHF tags being available for less than 15c each. However high performance tags like the PowerT that RFID Race Timing Systems recommends will cost more due to the added battery and size, but still be lower in cost than the lower frequency transponders.

The second reason UHF is so attractive is the ability to transfer large amounts of information between tag and reader in a given time. This means advanced anti-collision algorithms can be employed to allow one reader to interrogate hundreds of tags in a second using just one antenna.

So, do we think UHF tags will dominate sports timing in the next 5 years? The answer is an emphatic yes with a footnote. We do not see UHF being an alternative in the near future for timing triathlon. Even a battery assisted passive tag like the PowerT has trouble being read on the ankle underneath a wetsuit! We think that timers will continue to use low frequency or active tags for triathlon for a long time to come and that is why our HDD and Dual Antenna Systems continue to sell strongly.

But we will make a bold statement and declare that 95% of the worlds running events will be using some form of UHF disposable tag in 2 years time

Tech Talk, Uncategorized
April 22, 2010

Tech Talk – The gap between Active and Passive Transponders

It can be confusing these days deciding on a technology to adopt for timing your next race. Some technologies have come and gone whilst others like the Texas Instruments half duplex low frequency transponders developed in the mid 90s continue to live on. Active tags use an internal battery to transmit their signal when woken up by a signal from the RFID reader. The transmitted signal from the tag is strong and thus read performance tends to be very close to, if not 100%. The drawback with active tags is their cost – ranging from USD $25-$100 – and their limited lifespan based on the coin cell battery used. The passive tag uses no battery to transmit the return tag code but uses the energy sent from the reader to either charge up a little on board capacitor for power, or reflect the energy in the form of a modulated signal. The first instance is used in many low and high frequency passive tags. The second instance is used in Gen 2 Ultra High Frequency systems and is called backscatter. The read performance of a well designed passive RFID system approaches 100% but there is always the odd chance that a tag is not energised in the short time it is in the read field. The big advantage of passive tags is the cost factor which is many times less than for active tags. This is because the circuitry is simpler and there is no need for a relatively large power source on board the actual tag. These tags can cost as little as USD $0.50 in volume.

A hybrid passive tag is the Battery Assisted Passive (BAP) tag developed by the company PowerID. The thin film battery only has a small amount of energy stored relative to a coin cell but is cheap to manufacture and has no harmful chemicals to the environment. The BAP tag uses this energy source to wake the tiny integrated circuit onboard the tag so that almost 100% of the energy sent from the reader is backscattered back to the reader from the tag. The improvement in performance is clear both in read range and readability next to bad substances like water and metal. RFID Race Timing Systems decided to adopt the new PowerID tags because the BAP significantly narrows the gap between active and passive RFID tags used in sports timing keeping.

Tech Talk, Uncategorized