Apr 01, 2011

By Brett King

UK Olympics to trial new RFID biochips embedded under athletes skin

In the latest attempt to capitalize on the NFC and RFID hype, the rumor mill has exploded with news that the IOC and the team behind the London Olympics is trialing new RFID bio-chips. The micro RFID chips that will be injected under the skin of the shoulder of professional athletes, will be used for everything from entry to secure venues, payment for meals and beverages in the Olympic village, and even linked to personal bank accounts for payments.

This is not new technology. As far back as 2004 it was reported that the Baha Beach Club in Barcelona was injecting VIP patrons with RFID chips to replace credit cards and membership ID cards. Athletes will have the option of either the traditional contactless NFC card, or opting in for the RFID chip. However, officials from the London Organising Committee Of The Olympic Games were quick to explain the benefits of the embedded technology including the fact that athletes themselves would not have to carry a physical card to gain access to secure venues, accommodation or to pay for meals, services and souvenirs.

Mary Coleman-Brace, the spokesperson for the LOCOG said of the technology:

“While some may consider this invasive, it is a tried and tested technology and we hope to incentivize athletes by offering them discounts on a range of Olympic village services, also offering spot prizes for those that participate in the program. We believe that this sets the tone for future Olympic village constructs by defining a truly innovative security and payments device that the athlete can carry with them at all times. It also enables us to track the athletes and we’re looking at trialing the integration of the RFID technology in respect to performance measurement for elements like track-and-field race timings also.”

Visa is said to be considering a rival technology where an embedded chip is not required, but a temporary athletes tattoo placed on the skin would be used in a similar manner to the RFID chip. The tattoo design, incorporating a hybrid of the Visa and London Olympics logo, would incorporate a micro-NFC device that was low irritant and could survive contact on the skin.

RFID chips in use at the Cebu Marathon in 2010

While this is the first time that technology under the skin is being considered for an Olympic event, there has been the use of RFID technology already in many sporting events. In January, 2010 at the Cebu marathon, athletes wore RFID tags that measured their performance and times over the 42k race. LOCOG officials pointed out that in recent years there has been rapid improvement in the miniaturization of the technology, allowing it to be less invasive.

So what do you think? If you were an athlete would you be up for the RFID technology? Or would you realize that stories like this on April the 1st carry some risk?

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