The Danish amusement park lets parents tag their children and track their whereabouts wirelessly.

Laurie Sullivan, Contributor

April 28, 2004

3 Min Read

Parents visiting Denmark's Legoland amusement park are signing away their privacy rights for a little peace of mind. Legoland, one of Europe's largest amusement parks, has bridged the great divide to deploy a Wi-Fi-based wireless security and location RFID technology in the 2.5 million-square-foot park for its annual 1.6 million visitors.

The technology from Bluesoft Inc. operates with active tags using 802.11b wireless LAN technology. It communicates by sending on preprogrammed eight-second intervals a short 2.4-GHz Wi-Fi message that's received by Bluesoft's AeroScout location receivers installed at Legoland. They can read the AeroScout tag's 2.4-GHz signal as well as any 802.11b-enabled device. The system can identify the whereabouts of a child wearing a tag to within six yards. "It took roughly eight weeks to install 37 receivers and insert fiber-optic cables in the ground to support the RFID Wi-Fi system," says Kurt Kristensen, Legoland's project manager, through an interpreter. "The size of the park and landscaping required us to install more receivers than first thought."

To locate the child, Bluesoft has added a location receiver that looks and feels like an access point. Legoland bought 500 bands, but expects to use several thousand in the park.

Bluesoft's AeroScout T2 tag, roughly 1-1/2 inches by 2-1/2 inches, attaches to a child's wrist with a disposable plastic wristband. The parent's mobile phone and number act as the communication device and individual identifier. If the child wanders off unexpectedly, the parent sends a test message from their mobile phone to a tracking number, along with a map or the park, provided when the service is rented. Within a few seconds, the parent receives a message alerting them in which section of the park the child has been found. If the child leaves the park, a message is sent to the parent's mobile phone, as well as to the security guards at all the park entrances and exits. The process is instantaneous.

Theme-park application developer KidSpotter A/S provided the software that links the AeroScout system with the mobile-phone network. But the system not only provides a way to quickly connect parents with missing children, it also opens new wireless opportunities and revenue streams for the park. The tracking system is optional. Parents pay about $5 on top of the admission price into Legoland, along with a $16 refundable deposit.

"Now that the cabling is done, we can also use it for future wireless projects," Kristensen says. "We're also looking into adding wireless ordering capabilities in our restaurants. When people eat in our restaurants, they will look at a menu and order from a wireless system. Plus, there are many outdoor restaurants and food carts in the park and they could have wireless cash registers as well."

The technology from Bluesoft and KidSpotter is being tested at the Denmark amusement park. If the project is successful, it will be installed next year in the three remaining parks in England, Germany, and the United States. The investment for a location system similar to the Legoland deployment runs between $100,000 and $150,000, according to a spokesperson for Bluesoft. The cost includes receivers, server software, and 500 tags. Depending on the company's IT infrastructure, a wireless bridge or optic cabling could be required.

Other applications for amusement parks include monitoring traffic patterns and developing a quick pass to eliminate long lines on popular rides. A notification would appear on the park-goer's mobile phone. Having a system based on Wi-Fi with the ability to locate cellular phones and PDAs provides opportunities to build new applications riding on that infrastructure.

Potential theme-park customers for Bluesoft include Walt Disney and Six Flags. Although it's a niche market, KidSpotter is building its business in the child-safety identification space. Other companies in the market such as SafeTzone Technologies Corp. and Wander Wear Inc. also target child safety. In June 2001, SafeTzone commissioned a study before it began to develop its child-tracking product. In the study, research firm Actionable Research concluded that more than 27% of families attending amusement parks lost their children temporarily.

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