It's in the Badge

How RFID technology stores and tracks attendee information

In this acronym-laden world, the latest catching fire is RFID, short for radio frequency identification. This technology is being used in tags that are then placed in name badges and smart cards, carrying bits of information to be picked up by readers (devices containing one or more antennas) positioned at trade show entrances, in exhibit booths or even in a fellow attendee’s tag.
    “Nearly all of the major registration companies are dabbling in it,” says Corbin Ball, CMP, president of Bellingham, Wash.-based Corbin Ball Associates.
    This is a very young technology, however, warns Bob Lucke, executive vice president of business development for Conferon Global Services. The company’s registration division, Frederick, Md.-based ExpoExchange, recently started offering RFID to its 320 trade show clients, but Lucke expects only 12 or so to use it in 2005.
    “This is not plug-and-play technology; it is not simple to deploy,” Lucke says. “It’s still being worked on. Protocols are still being agreed on.” He predicts the technology will change rapidly in the next 12 to 24 months.
Plenty of companies already are offering RFID to meetings, though. Following is a roundup of some of the products available today. (For a discussion of RFID’s privacy concerns, see “You Have Been Tagged and Scanned” in Tech Files, M&C, June 2004.)

SpotMe deviceSpotMe
Shockfish SA
Price: 25 to 90 euros a day per device (about US$33 to $120 at press time)

Coming out of Switzerland is SpotMe (see picture, above left), more of a handheld device than a badge. It carries the latest meeting agenda and news, and it allows attendees to access the event’s database of contacts and participant photographs. Stand still, and it also will display the pictures and information for everyone within about 100 feet. Users can set the device to alert them when a particular attendee is nearby, or they can send messages to other participants. They also can choose to send their business cards to new colleagues with the press of a button. When the event is over, attendees receive their own contact log, with cards and photos.       

Conferon Global Services
Price: About $1.25 per paper badge; up to $2,000 for readers

This company will attach RFID tags to a trade show’s smartcard or, by using an adhesive label, to a paper badge. Readers are set up depending on how the tags are going to be used. They can be positioned to read badges as people enter a hall in groups (more expensive) or to track attendee movements across the trade show floor, or the readers can be supplied to exhibitors to enable them to gather leads individually (less expensive).

nTag devicenTag
nTag Interactive
Price: $40-$120 per badge, depending on the size of the event

The product that probably has garnered the most press, nTag (see picture, right) is an RFID badge that acts as an on-site PDA, able to carry conference information, receive messages from the event host, send information to exhibitors, facilitate attendee voting and much more. In addition, the tags are able to recognize other tags nearby, flashing information on the tag’s small screen, allowing attendees to learn some basic facts about each other before they’ve had a chance to say hello. After the event, nTag consolidates the contact information of all the people an attendee has met and sends each user a handy list via e-mail.

Dietze Enterprises
Price: About 25 cents per badge; $300 per reader, per show

Designed specifically for lead-retrieval use, the RFBadge has an RFID tag embedded into it, allowing readers to pick up attendee contact information (which is encrypted) from two to six inches away. The reader stores information from all the people who were scanned at the booth, and it has a built-in printer so exhibitors can take a paper record with them right away. The company currently is working on a new wireless reader, to debut this fall.