RFID Left out in the Cold

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Nov 16, 2010 @ 01:02 PM

Solution Provides Tracking, Temperature Monitoring & Scheduling for Iditarod Participants

IditarodDuring this campaign, we’ve seen how one use of RFID actually ends up solving more than one problem - offering added bonuses on top of serving its initial purpose. Today’s application is no different, with one RFID system helping its users overcome three major challenges.

The obvious use for RFID in a race that spans more than 1,000 miles and the course of several days is to help the spectators get a real-time view of the Iditarod. They can see the locations of each musher, in relation to the others, at any given time.

The tracking system used RFID transponders built by IonEarth. Each transponder contains a GPS receiver, an Iridium short-burst data modem that transmits a signal encoded with an ID number, an accelerometer to track speed and a temperature sensor. The waterproof transponders are affixed to the front of the sleds and programmed to transmit their position, speed, heading and temperature every 15 minutes via Iridium's satellite network. With that information, race officials can pinpoint a sled's position to within 20 feet. That’s pretty precise when the sleds are traversing mountain ranges, forests, desolate tundra and frozen rivers - which brings us to the second benefit of RFID in this application.

Because the system tracks the speed of each sled, organizers can see if a racer's pace is slower than normal. Simultaneously, they can also see the temperature being endured by that racer. With the extensive stretch of trails and the variations in landscape, temperatures and winds can change dramatically, going as low as -50 degrees Fahrenheit. The data would indicate if a racer needed to be rescued. And forget about using a cell phone in an emergency situation because on these trails cell phones don’t work. 

Cell phones also wouldn’t be able to be used to notify checkpoint teams of a sled’s arrival. But RFID would! For RFID use #3, the real-time view lets volunteers, judges and dog handlers know when to be ready. Before the RFID tracking system, checkpoint teams had to be ready at any given time, requiring someone to be on watch around the clock.

Purists may not like the idea because the Iditarod was invented to pit man against nature. At least the RFID system isn’t enhancing anyone’s performance over another or influencing the outcome. And it’s helping protect the lives of the mushers and the dogs. Who wouldn’t like that? We particularly like the 3-for-1 deal. 

[Photo credit: Boston Globe’s Big Picture]


Tags: RFID, Temperature Monitoring, Race Timing

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