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A day in the park with contactless technology: RFID solves a variety of needs for amusement park operators

Chris Corum   ||   Mar 01, 2003  ||   ,

RFID technology is moving into areas previously not even considered. We are all well aware by now that it is being used for payment and access control, but it is also keeping kids safe in theme parks and making their experiences at these parks more interactive and fun.

As one media outlet commented, it smacks of "big brother," but it also provides that warm fuzzy feeling that comes with knowing, at all times, where your children are.

A number of waterparks around the country are opting for SafeTzone's RFID wristband that resembles a wristwatch and enables parents to easily track their children's whereabouts. Parks in Georgia, such as Six Flags and Stone Mountain, are using Precision Dynamics' Smart Band to not only allow customers to pay for purchases but to participate in interactive games.

Do you know where your children are?

SafeTzone Technologies of Laguna Hills, California offers an integrated package of mapping kiosks and tracking bracelets working through a wireless network backbone. Park visitors using the system are given bracelets containing an RFID tag to wear in the park.

If someone is separated from his or her party, other party members (i.e. parents) can go to a kiosk and scan their bracelets to visually locate the rest of their group. The park typically charges the patrons a fee to use the service either by a daily rental or via a season pass.

The system has been deployed at Wet ‘n Wild in Orlando, Florida and Las Vegas, Nevada; Wild Rivers in Irvine, California; and Dolly's Splash Country in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

"When parents of children or guests within a group become lost or separated, our system allows them to identify the location of their group members on an electronic map of the park," said Regan Kelly, SafeTzone executive vice president. "SafeTzone was founded to track kids in crowded environments."

"A study performed by IntMetrix cited that 27% of families visiting an amusement park in the last 12 months temporarily lost one of their children during the visit," said Timothy W. Giraldin, SafeTzone CEO. "Our simple new technology gives park visitors peace of mind."

The wrist band locator worn by each party member consistently communicates with special readers set up throughout the park which communicate the precise location of the RFID tag to the system software. Locating the whereabouts of another party member is as simple as scanning the locator at any SafeTzone Location Station situated throughout the park. An electronic map of the park appears on the kiosk screen and the real-time position of each member of the family or group will appear on the map.

The wristbands contain both an active and passive RF tag. The active tag is used for long-range communication to the antennae situated throughout the park. The passive tag is used for communication at the kiosk. Depending on the installation, the system employs either the 13.56 MHz Tag-IT™ product from Texas Instruments or their 134 kHz tag.

When asked why both active and passive technologies were necessary in the same wristband, SafeTzone's Chief Technical Officer Martin Crowley, reported that the active tag was great for long-range communication, but the passive tag was necessary to securely identify the individual at the kiosk. "For safety reasons, we need to be absolutely certain that the tag being read at the kiosk is the person at the front of the line, rather than someone else standing nearby."

SafeTzone is offering several new features this year, including its Amenity Locator and Guest Messaging. The Amenity Locator provides guests with an on-screen display of directions and/or maps to a set of pre-selected amenities in the park, such as restaurants, ATMs, restrooms, first aid, and the most popular rides and attractions.

Guests can leave messages for other members of their party at the kiosks. These messages then appear for the specified guest the next time that guest's RFID tag is presented at a kiosk. This feature can also be used by the park administrators to send messages to specified guests. These messages could include restaurant advertisements, a list of rides with short wait times, or weather information.

Additionally, the RFID wristbands can also be used for cashless payment in a park's restaurants, game rooms, and shops.

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