Wi-Fi Watches the Kids

By Ed Sutherland

April 27, 2004

Combining RFID with Wi-Fi technology has lead Bluesoft into a number of new customer areas -- including theme parks.

Legoland, the Danish equivalent of Disneyland but built with small plastic block toys, is the test bed of a new Wi-Fi version of Radio Frequency ID (RFID) tags, the technology making converts everywhere from the halls of the U.S. Pentagon to the aisles of retail giant Wal-Mart.

For retailers, like Wal-Mart, with millions of items which must be tracked and ordered, RFID is a technological marvel, simplifying complex inventory procedures and on-time shipment schedules. For the Pentagon, a ready supply of boots and bullets isn't so much about keeping customers happy as keeping them alive.

But much of RFID is passive with an operational range extending just a few feet. San Mateo, Calif.-based Bluesoft hopes to ride the RFID wave of popularity with its matchbook-sized AeroScout Wi-Fi tag. The AeroScout was upgraded this week to a new version called T2, reportedly with more flexibility in the form it can take. Along with the Wi-Fi radios, the AeroScout system uses Bluesoft's location servers.

AeroScout combines longer-range active RFID with real-time location technology and 802.11b-based Wi-Fi radios to track and monitor high-value objects -- for example, children.

When Denmark's LegoLand reopened its 2.5 million square-foot amusement park on March 27, the toymaker brought in Bluesoft and the Wi-FI-based RFID system to help solve a nagging problem for the 1.6 million annual visitors: lost kids.

"At theme parks with kids, a perennial worry is they'll wander somewhere where you'll lose them," says Andris Berzins, vice president of Marketing and Business Development for Bluesoft.

Partnering with Danish software developer Kidspotter, Bluesoft created the infrastructure allowing kids entering the park to wear an AeroScout-tagged wristband. Worried parents could then use their cell phone to send the park an SMS message which would then respond with the child's current location.

The wristbands replace an old system were parents and park officials were left "searching around for a kid with 'brown hair and glasses,'" says Berzins.

Along with tracking kids, the Bluesoft system helps LegoLand -- and other amusement parks -- know more about visitor traffic patterns and favorite areas.

"This provides us with a better foundation to make the right decisions for placement of new rides and to improve visitation of the areas of the park that are frequently overlooked," said Dorte Tegllund, LegoLand Denmark Marketing Director.

The Wi-Fi tags extend beyond the amusement park gates. Berzins says the Wi-Fi tags -- in the form of an ID badge or bracelet -- can track employees or even sort out massive shipments.

Car manufacturers, says Berzins, often need to track one automobile from an inventory of 50,000.

"We're being deluged with opportunities," says Berzins. "We have a couple retail projects to track shopping carts. We can track all the in-store items and figure out the hotzones and dead spots in a store to change the layout and get more products in front of customers."

In manufacturing, the tags can be used for "locating inventory and equipment and other space. Even robots and stuff," says Berzins.

CIOs are "badgering IT departments" looking for ways to use the technology, says Berzins. "The RFID market boom is bringing a lot of opportunity."

"Companies are aware of the Wal-Mart initiative -- or are subject to it -- and the CEO says 'we need an RFID strategy.' They see they can't do much with 50-cent passive tags, it doesn't solve much," says Berzins.

The LegoLand announcement was Bluesoft says more announcement of applications for the Wi-Fi tags are in the wings.



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