By Jeff Staples, ContactlessNews/AVISIAN Publisher
Having been involved in the advanced identification technology field for at least a dozen years, I have heard many times just how close a particular technology was to achieving wide-spread acceptance and deployment, only to see those promises fade along with numerous companies and their millions of dollars of investment. Times are certainly changing, and one advanced ID technology in particular has found many subtle, and some not so subtle, ways of helping us through the day. That technology is contactless.
Recently I spent a day in pursuit of a long sought-after goal – to run and finish a marathon. The day after the marathon I found myself on a plane heading to the Cartes conference in Paris with six hours to kill when it occurred to me that I (and twenty thousand others) had used an array of contactless devices in the course of my race day without giving it a second thought. Here are a few examples of how these devices and services made my day a little easier.
Out the door, on the road
My bag packed, I stumble out the door at 5 in the morning and unlock my car with my keyless remote. It’s early and I have a rather pressing need to be somewhere. That must mean I’m either running low on gas or caffeine and have to make as quick a pit stop as possible. Fortunately the Exxon Mobil station is open, so I stop, take my keys and run inside, using my Speed Pass to pay at the register. No PIN, no signature, just a tap and pay and I’m on my way again
Now, I’m really in a rush to catch my Metro train. As I drive down Northern Virginia’s Dulles toll road several drivers ease to the right to stop and pay their toll, but without a second thought I keep to the left, and speed, I mean casually and safely pass through the toll plaza and watch the toll booth light acknowledge my payment via the Smart Tag device mounted on my windshield.
Pulling into the Vienna Metro station I join the legions of bleary-eyed runners/commuters. While many stop and try to decipher the fare schedule and buy their tickets, a number of us walk on past the crowd and wave our SmarTrip card over the turnstile reader, heading toward the train platform without breaking stride. The Washington, DC Metro is one of the most successful contactless fare card systems in the U.S., finding a home in a region filled with type A personalities and early adopters.
I board my train and join an eerily silent crowd of runners, all of whom just want to get to the starting line and get on with it. During part of my training regimen I used a heart rate monitor from Finland-based Polar that utilized a contactless interface to transmit data between a transponder and my watch, monitoring heart rate – actual, average and maximum. It also managed to tell time. If I were wearing it right now it would sense my nervousness and sound a constant alarm.
At the race
Finally I arrive near the starting line of the Marine Corps Marathon and join a crowd of nearly 22,000 runners and tens of thousands of onlookers and support personnel. When you and 20,000 anxious people want to get started all at the same time and run for a personal best, it can be a little chaotic. I have one less thing to worry about this morning as this race, like nearly every major race around the world, utilizes technology from ChampionChip to keep the timing aspect of the race in order. It takes me nearly ten minutes to make my way to the start line due to the crowds, which in a contactless-less world would put me ten minutes behind for my starting “gun” time. With the ChampionChip, my race timing begins when my transponder, secured in my shoelaces, crosses a mat embedded with an integrated reader at the starting line. Other mats along the course will help keep track of my progress as well.
ChampionChip is part of a sophisticated information management system at this race, one in which my time and location are updated at various parts of the course, giving my family an instant message on their mobile phone so they know when to expect me at their vantage point, and an analysis of my performance during different stages of the race for my post-race review. The system doesn’t lie, and it accurately portrays my race as 16 miles of enjoyable running and on-target milestones, and then 10.2 miles of something else. Nonetheless I finish the race with a huge sense of satisfaction (along with the obligatory muscle cramps) and head for the metro station to begin my journey home. I only wish more of the post-race, sweaty runners had opted for a SmartTrip card to speed the crowd flow through the metro station. What must the tourists think?
What did I use?
- Speedpass (www.speedpass.com) Speedpass claims more than 6 million users and over 8,600 ExxonMobil stations accepting the token.
- Smart Tag (smart-tag.com)
There are 495,000 active tags in Virginia, 10.5 million transactions per month, and each tag that has auto-replenishment via credit card maintains a minimum balance of $35 (most do, which means the Virginia Department of Transportation has a funds pool of nearly $17 million). The transponders are made by Mark IV of Toronto.
- Polar (www.polar.fi)
Polar utilizes an analog contactless protocol in the 5 kHz range and features products that can interface with watches, exercise equipment, and now also a Nokia mobile phone via an infra red link.
- ChampionChip (www.championchip.com)
Based in the Netherlands, with affiliates around the world, ChampionChip utilizes the TIRIS transponder from Texas Instruments.
- SmartTrip (www.wmata.com) Offered by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), the SmarTrip card has been issued to more than 300,000 riders in the Washington, DC area.