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- This article covers the history of a venture company that developed a timing equipment using RFID technology that is being used in sports events such as marathons and triathlons across the world.
Discovering the future potential of RFID technology
Micro Talk Systems Corp., established in 1994, is one of the few manufacturers in Japan that develops, manufactures, and sells products specializing in radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. RFID is a system that reads and writes data from tags with an embedded IC chip without contact by using radio waves, and it enables reading information of multiple tags all at once even without scanning each tag one by one with a reading machine like barcodes. Back when the company was first established, most people in Japan were still discussing the possible applications of RFID.
Micro Talk Systems used Texas Instrument's IC chip for RFID to first successfully develop a system for key manufacturers that can unlock rooms and the entrance to apartments simply by waving a key with built-in RFID tag. To date, this system has been used by 5 million apartment residents, becoming a long-selling product that supports the company’s business. The company has also developed a locker system using RFID technology targeting sports clubs and hot bath facilities, and this system is being using in facilities nationwide.
Self-developed a semi-active tag widely used in sports timing
Since its founding, Micro Talk Systems had been thinking of entering the sports timing market. Using RFID, it would be possible to automatically measure the accurate time of each runner at marathon events participated by tens of thousands of people. However, a venture company based in Netherlands announced the same system before them and the system was officially used in the Atlanta Olympics, resulting in the company to quickly dominate the market. Even if Micro Talk Systems were to create the same kind of product following that company, they would not be able to grab a large share of the market, so instead of the passive type until then without an in-built battery, they self-developed a semi-active type RFID chip with an in-built battery (J-Chip system). Compared to the passive type, the semi-active type has an advantage of being able to read tags located father away. According to the official rules of track and field events, the time must be measured based on the position of the athlete’s chest, but the company based in Netherlands that introduced the system ahead of them had no choice but to attach the tag onto the athlete’s leg because the system was a passive type. In contrast, the J-Chip system realized timing according to official rules with a tag attached to the bib number.
Ever since its launch in 2005, J-Chip system has been used by a growing number of marathon events in Japan and overseas, and it has also been used at the World Championships in Athletics. J-Chip has also been used in other sports such as cycling, triathlon, Nordic events, and more, and in 2012 the International Triathlon Union (ITU) certified the J-Chip system as a standard timing device.
Aiming for RFID use in a wide range of fields with S-Location system
J-Chip became a well-recognized brand in the niche market of sports timing, but the company developed S-Location system in an aim to broaden the applications of their products. This system combines the J-Chip system with pin-point position information. By using a RFID tag, the system automatically detects "who" was present "where" and at "what time," and it can be used for attendance management in offices and factories. In addition to being used as the entry/exit system of a nuclear power related facility where approximately 30,000 people work and the office management system of nationwide branches of a major communication company, S-Location system is being used for security management at chemical plants, semiconductor plants, and food processing plants. In recent years, the system is increasingly being used by schools for attendance management of children and students.
Micro Talk Systems also offers an in-door running automatic timing system, which is an application of the S-Location system. This system displays on a monitor the "distance completed” and the “running pace” of each runner at running events held inside gyms and at sports clubs, making the simultaneous timing of multiple runners possible even in indoor environments where GPS cannot be used.
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