- Parts of a Race Timing System
- System Setup Examples
- RFID Readers
- RFID Antennas
- RFID Cables
- RFID Tags
- Common Setups
Parts of a Race Timing System
This segment of the RFID Race Timing eBook Series explores each component of an RFID Chip Timing System and how the components work together. This information is pertinent for first time buyers because it allows them to make a more knowledgeable purchasing decision for creating their ideal system. This eBook begins with an overview of each piece of equipment and their role in the system and wraps up with a look into common equipment setups for small and medium-sized races.
Below are the key parts of an RFID Chip Timing System:
RFID Readers – RFID Readers are the brain of any RFID system, and several options are available to pick from in regards to type, power source, antenna ports, connectivity, and other features. A reader’s job is to transmit power through antenna cables to RFID Antennas, receive power back from the antennas with the chip’s modulated data, and translate the chip’s data into meaningful information.
RFID Antennas – RFID Antennas operate as the arms in an RFID system, and function by using the power from the RFID reader to energize RFID tags in the vicinity, listen for tag responses, and then send the responses back to the reader. Read more on how energy flows through a system.
RFID Antenna Cables – RFID Antenna Cables connect readers and antennas and act as the conduit for energy between the two. When choosing an RFID cable for a system, there are three important factors to consider – insulation rating (cable thickness), cable length, and the connectors.
RFID Tags/Chips – RFID Tags, also called Chips, contain an Integrated Chip, called an ‘IC’ or ‘Chipset’, a metal antenna, and a substrate which binds the chipset and antenna. The tags receive power from electromagnetic waves transmitted via the RFID antenna, modulate that energy with information written on their memory banks, and then send the modulated energy back to the antenna.
Laptop/Server – In an RFID System, the type of connected computer or server can be critical because it receives the data from the RFID reader, stores the information, and through software, is able to make meaningful, successful connections.
RFID Timing Software – RFID Timing Software is responsible for taking the reader’s output and turning it into meaningful data through algorithms in a usable interface.
If you aren’t as familiar with each of these components, it can be difficult to picture what an RFID Chip Timing System may look like at a race. Below are a few pictures of some RFID System Setups.
Race Timing Setups - On Your left fitness and Timing
Race Timing Setups - Negative Split
Race Timing Setups - Bodies Race Company
Now that a reader’s basic functionality has been explained, this section will dive into different reader options to provide clarity into the ideal reader for a specific system.
Types of Readers
Chip Timing Systems rely on fixed readers for the brain of the system, but also can benefit from USB readers for faster and more efficient RFID tag encoding.
RFID Fixed Readers are considered ‘workhorses’ in the industry and are the leading type of reader in 99% of Race Timing Systems. These readers excel in Race Timing applications because of their high read rate and read accuracy, a long read range, and are able to perform for long periods of time, perfect for long and back-to-back races.
USB readers are efficient for encoding because of their limited read range, low-cost point, and ability to power via USB port. Most timers receive their tags pre-encoded or encode their tags with an RFID printer but a USB RFID Reader enables timers to encode one-offs, like late sign-ups and race day additions. Lowering the read power on USB readers ensures only one tag read at a time, the ideal environment for encoding tags. Encoding can also be done either with an RFID Printer, or via an encoding/printing service provided by a 3rd party.
RFID Readers, like most electronics, are rated for ingress protection, which is generally a number between 00 and 69 that identifies the level of protection from solids and liquids. The first digit in the number indicates the level of protection against solids, with the lowest number being 0 and the highest rating being 6, and the second digit indicates the level of protection against liquids.
RFID Readers do not necessarily need to be highly rated against ingress if they will be protected from the elements in the application environment. Most fixed readers range between IP 52 and IP 68, and if they are at the lower end of the average rating, it is recommended to purchase an enclosure to house them when using outdoors.
Fixed readers are available with the number of antenna ports ranging between 1 – 8, with the 4-port version the most common. In addition to the available antenna ports, some 4-port readers can be connected to an Antenna Hub which allows for the connection of up to 32 antennas. Most Race Timers use a 4-port RFID reader because of the availability, features, price point, and reliability. If the finish line is very wide, an 8-port reader can be used to adequately cover the entire space.
Race timing readers rely on the power available at the race location, and most often the only thing available is a simple power outlet for an entire Race Timing System which could mean one power outlet for an entire Race Timing System. That simple wall outlet could be in charge of powering your reader, your laptop, and any other system accessories like cameras or kiosks. Most RFID readers are powered via Power over Ethernet (PoE) or an AC/DC power supply. If ethernet ports are typically available, the reader can be powered via PoE in order to save outlets for other equipment likes laptops.
Keep in mind - RFID Readers typically have a lower output when powered by PoE instead of an ac adapter.
RFID readers in Race Timing Systems most commonly connect and send data to laptops or networks via Ethernet, Wi-Fi, or a Serial connection like a 9-pin or USB connector. Ensure that the chosen RFID reader has the connectivity option(s) needed for a specific laptop or desired functionality.
Other functionalities available on RFID readers that could be important to your system are Processing Power, SD Memory Card slot, GPIO options, USB ports, and HDMI ports for example.
Reader types, ruggedness, antenna ports, power options, connectivity, and additional functionalities are some of the first options to look at when deciding on an RFID Chip Timing Reader. For more information about RFID Readers and how they work, check out our eBook An Intro to RFID Readers: Basics & Options by clicking the link below.
An Intro to RFID Readers: Basics & Options is available for online reading or for digital download and contains more information about the above RFID Reader options, functionalities, and more. For specific questions, feel free to contact us.
Now that an antenna’s basic functionality has been explained, this section will dive into different antenna options to provide clarity into the ideal antennas for a specific system.
Types of antennas
Only a couple types of antennas work well in Chip Timing Systems – Panel Antennas & Mat Antennas.
Panel antennas are basic, square or rectangular antennas, that are mounted on a tripod or truss system either above or on either side of a read point. The ability to mount panel antennas is a key difference between panel and mat antennas.
Mat antennas are not mounted, instead these antennas are placed on the ground at a read point in order to read the tags that cross over them. Because these two types of antennas read tags at different heights and angles, the choice of antenna will greatly affect how race participants are tagged.
RFID antennas create an electromagnetic field and transmit electromagnetic waves into free space. Antennas do not simply send out waves at random, waves are emitted on a horizontal and/or vertical plane which is referred to as their polarization.
Linearly polarized antennas emit electromagnetic waves across one plane, either vertically or horizontally depending on the antenna and how it is mounted. Circularly polarized antennas emit electromagnetic waves across both vertical and horizontal planes in a spinning motion. Circularly polarized antennas are key in situations where the tag’s height and orientation aren’t known, for example, in a race that uses a hip tagging method. In a race with hip tagging, each race participant’s height varies which means the RFID tag’s height and location will vary as well.
Because of the nature of Race Timing, it is not always easy to predict exact tag height and angle. Because of this, most chip timing systems use circularly polarized antennas. However, some systems are successful using linearly polarized mat antennas.
Antennas, like readers, are rated for Ingress Protection and it is important to purchase Race Timing Antennas rated specifically for outdoor use, which is typically between IP 64 – IP 69. Unlike readers, antennas are not typically placed in protected enclosures, so each antenna used must be able to withstand the environment as purchased.
RFID Antennas vary in terms of gain, which is basically a term for measuring the amount of radiated power in a given direction. The higher the gain, typically the longer the read range. Most RFID Antennas used in race timing systems have a gain between 7 dBic and 9 dBic.
If panel antennas are chosen for a specific chip timing system, a mounting bracket for each antenna should be purchased in order to mount on a tripod or truss system. Mounting directly on a truss system can be done, but using a mounting bracket provides much more flexibility in terms of antenna angle and position. Mounting brackets are available in different sizes with different mounting plates, so it is important to figure out which bracket will work for each antenna.
Antenna types, polarization, ruggedness, gain and the option of mounting brackets are some of the first decisions when choosing an RFID Antenna. For more information about RFID Antennas and how they work, check out Guide to RFID Antennas eBook by clicking the link below.
9 Tactics for Choosing an RFID Antenna is available for online reading or for digital download and contains more information about the above RFID Antenna options, functionalities, and more. For specific questions, feel free to contact us.
Now that an RFID antenna cable’s basic functionality has been explained, this section will dive into different cable options to provide clarity into the ideal cable for a specific system.
Insulating Rating refers to the cable’s thickness. There are three common ratings for RFID antenna cables – 195 series, 240 series, and 400 series. The thicker and more insulated the cable, the less energy lost during transmission. If a longer cable must be used, a high insulation rating like a 400 series cable should be selected in order to combat the energy loss.
The longer the antenna cable, the more energy will be lost during the transmission between the reader and antenna. For every 3dB of energy loss, it is essentially the same as cutting the power and read range in half. In a lesser insulated cable like the 195 series, 3 dB is typically lost around 30 feet in length. Antenna cables are typically sold in lengths between 1 – 40 feet, but the most commonly sold cables range between 10 – 20 feet.
In order for an antenna cable to properly connect to the RFID Reader and the RFID Antenna, it must have the correct connector at each end, which is dependent on the type of reader and antenna selected. Most RFID readers have RP-TNC Female connectors, which means the antenna cable should dependent on the type of reader and antenna selected. Most RFID readers have RP-TNC Female connectors, which means the antenna cable should have one connector that is RP-TNC Male. If the RFID antenna ends in an N-type Male, the other end of the antenna cable should terminate in an N-type Female.
take a look at a chart showing the correlation between cable length, insulation rating, and energy loss
Cable length, insulation rating, and connectors are the key factors when choosing an RFID Antenna Cable. For more information about RFID antenna cables and how they work, check out Guide to RFID Antenna Cables eBook by clicking the link below.
A Guide to Cables, Connectors, & Adapters is available for online reading or for digital download and contains more information about the above RFID Antenna options, functionalities, and more. For specific questions, feel free to contact us.
For the rest of the cables chart click here.
Now that an RFID tag’s basic functionality has been explained, this section will dive into different tag options to provide clarity into the ideal tag for a specific system.
Type of Tag
A few types of RFID tags provide excellent read range in a variety of race timing environments.
Wet Inlays - A wet inlay is a paper-thin RFID tag with adhesive that can be attached to most plastic, paper, cardboard, and glass surfaces. Wet Inlays are available in two formats - the standard, clear inlay with adhesive, or an inlay with a paper face, which is usually preferred for races that require printing on the face of the tag. Races incorporate an RFID wet inlay on the runner’s bib or shoe depending on the equipment setup.
Hard Tags - Races that incorporate water, such as triathlons or bicycle races, are typically too rugged to use a wet inlay because inlays do not perform well around water, dirt, and mud. More durable, rugged tags are used in these types of races that usually attach via the ankle, shoe, wrist, or on a bike or ATV.
Disposable vs. Reusable / Ruggedness
Wet inlays and paper-face inlays (also called RFID labels) are typically disposable and only used for a single race, but they are much cheaper than rugged, reusable tags – some inlays are lower than $0.10 per tag in bulk. Because they are made of a thin plastic, these tags are not rugged and should not be used in wet or muddy races, or endure physical damage. If a tag is damaged, the tag’s antenna will disconnect from the tag’s IC and will not be readable.
Reusable tags such as triathlon tags are generally more rugged and can withstand water and dirt without breaking or becoming unusable. Reusable tags can be used for as many races as they are needed, but generally have a higher cost, ranging from $3 - $8 per tag.
If a race timing system uses disposable tags, it is important to understand that the cost of tags will be a recurring cost, versus using reusable tags which are generally thought of as a fixed cost similar to the rest of the RFID hardware.
Size & Read Range
RFID tag size is an important factor when choosing the ideal tag for a system, and generally, the larger the tag, the larger the read range. Most RFID timing systems incorporate a medium-sized wet inlay with an average read range around 15 to 20 meters, like the Smartrac Dogbone or Alien Squiggle. Smaller sized inlays are less obtrusive and typically have the same price point as medium-sized inlays but have a greatly diminished range, of around 2 to 3 meters. Reusable, rugged RFID tags suggested for race timing applications typically have a medium-sized inlay within the rugged exterior able to read 15 – 20 meters.
RFID tag chipsets vary in memory size and functionality depending on the manufacturer, but most chipsets used for race timing have a 96-bit EPC memory bank for encoded data. Impinj, Avery Dennison, and NXP are the three most popular chipset manufacturers and are continually updating and evolving their products with new versions featuring higher accuracies and new functionalities. Chipsets are manufactured and then placed into existing or new tag antennas, for example, Smartrac’s DogBone antenna design was created prior to 2013 and is still used today. The Smartrac Dogbone has been outfitted with a variety of different chipsets throughout the years such as Impinj’s Monza 4D, 4E, R6-P, and M750, and NXP’s UCODE 7, 7XM, DNA, and NXP’s G2iL.
If the ideal RFID tag for a system has various chipset options, generally it is better to choose one with a high read sensitivity, smaller memory bank capacity, and ideal features for race timing. For example, Impinj’s R6-P chipset has an Autotune feature, which helps the chip to work at peak efficiency, even in rapidly changing environments, which can describe some race conditions.
Each RFID tag’s chipset is pre-encoded with data on the EPC and TID memory banks. The EPC memory bank typically contains a 24-hexadecimal number, and, depending on the tag, is a number that repeats throughout the roll, or a randomized, unique number. Most tags with a Higgs chipset, made by Alien, have a randomized, unique EPC number that will not repeat, other chipsets do not guarantee a unique number. If a tag is purchased without a guaranteed unique EPC number, the number on the EPC memory bank must be rewritten either by a 3rd party or the system owner upon purchase because the number may repeat in the roll. If the EPC number is guaranteed unique, it does not have to be rewritten unless the system owner prefers the number to mimic the bib number, or participant ID.
The TID memory bank is always guaranteed unique, and can be used for race timing as well, but the RFID reader must be reprogrammed to read the TID memory bank instead of the EPC memory bank.
For a large majority of timing applications, the standard adhesive on the most popular race timing chips are very reliable and do not prove to be an issue, barring any extreme environmental conditions.
Tag types, ruggedness, size & read range, chipsets, and adhesive options are some of the first decisions when deciding on which RFID tag to choose for your system. For more information about RFID tags and how they work, check out Guide to RFID Tags eBook by clicking the button below.
A Guide to UHF RFID Tags is available for online reading or for digital download and contains more information about the above RFID Tag options, functionalities, and more. For specific questions, feel free to contact us.
Hardware System Setups
Common System Setups
Race Timing Systems are generally setup similarly for small to medium-sized races. Below is an example of a common hardware setup including component locations, but keep in mind specific systems depend on a few different factors like the environment, width of the start/finish line, wave/group starts, number of participants, type of race timing system, and length of a race.
A typical setup for a Race Timing System includes:
- 1 Four-Port Fixed RFID Reader
- 2-4 RFID Panel Antennas or Mat Antennas
- 2-4 RFID Antenna Cables
- 2-4 Mounting Brackets and Tripods (if Panel Antennas selected)
- 1 Laptop/Computer
- Race Timing Software
Placement of Equipment
The typical setup of a Chip Timing System involves three main locations:
Location 1 – A few feet off to the side and behind the start/finish line. Typically, a table and tent for the Laptop and RFID Reader to reside.
Location 2 – The sides/beneath of the start/finish line.This is where the RFID Antennas, Mounting Brackets, and Tripods or Trusses will reside.
Location 3 – The middle of the start/finish line.This is where participants tagged with RFID tags will be read and their time recorded. RFID Cables will run between Location 1 and Location 2.
This concludes part two of our RFID Race Timing eBook Series, covering components in a Race Timing System, how to choose each piece for your ideal system, and a general look at a system on race day. Up next, part three will cover tagging race participants, popular tagging methods, planning for a race, race day information, and how to mitigate potential problems.
For more information on all things RFID, checkout our website, our blog, our in-house ebooks, and our YouTube Channel. If you have specific questions about your Race Timing System, chat with us on our website, send us an email, or give us a call.