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Zoo keeps Bluetooth tags on wild children

Lost children in zoos may be an endangered species, thanks to Bluetooth. A zoo in Denmark is to pioneer a system that uses parents' mobile phones to track their young.
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor
Lost children in zoos may be an endangered species, thanks to Bluetooth.

Aalborg Zoo in Denmark is to pioneer a system that uses parents' mobile phones to track their young.

BodyTags, developed by tracking specialists BlueTags, are small Bluetooth pods that clip to the child's clothing: base stations scattered around the site detect nearby offspring and relay their location to a central database via wireless LAN. Parents register their mobiles with the system, and can get an update on their progeny's position within 20 seconds of sending a query text message.

The zoo will deploy the system--the first of its kind in the world--in July, with 200 tags and 50 access points covering the 85,000 square metre attraction. "We are very excited about the possibilities that the BlueTags tracking system provides and we are proud to be the first," said Henning Julin, director of Aalborg Zoo. "I expect many of my international colleagues to receive this tracking solution for children with open arms."

"The system will spot when a child is near an exit from the park, and can alert the parents, the administrators and the park's security," Peter Lund, vice president of business development at BlueTags, told ZDNet UK. He admitted that the first version of the tag could be removed or swapped by mischevious children, but "the next version will be a wristband that can't be taken off without signalling an alarm". Not only could parents relax and enjoy the attraction more with this system in place, he said, but it gave children more opportunities to freely explore at their own pace.

Other features include an optional automatic SMS sent every time a child moved from zone to zone. "Both tag and access point can be adjusted in range," he said. "Entrance points can be accurate down to two to three metres, but larger zones can be set and can overlap to improve precision."

He said that pricing for the tags would be set by the location's owners, and could factor in a per-SMS charge if appropriate. "The software in the system can track up to 100,000 tags, but the current hardware is limited to around 2000. We're also looking at other sorts of place, such as airports and hospitals," he added.

BlueTag expects the first UK deployment of the system before the end of 2003.

While other commercially-deployed tracking efforts, such as inventory monitoring systems by U.S. retail giant Walmart, have opted for radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, Bluetooth was favored in this instance because of its longer range and better scalability.

"BlueTags selected Bluetooth over other wireless schemes such as RFIDs because passive RFID tags work only at distances of a meter or two," Lund was quoting as saying in a report on electronic news site EE Times.

The capacity of RFID readers to read several tags simultaneously is also limited. While active RFID tags could track 30 to 40 objects per antenna, the technology would not be suitable to handle an overflow crowd. Bluetooth can track hundreds of tags at the same time, he said.

Rupert Goodwins reported for ZDNet UK. CNETAsia's Winston Chai contributed to this report.

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