Auburn University

March 25, 2021

Auburn University uses unique digital IDs to help tackle COVID-19

Auburn University, located in Alabama USA, is known worldwide for its RFID Lab that measures and certifies the performance and quality of RFID products and manufacturers. This year, to help contain the spread of COVID-19 infections, it is using RFID-enabled football field access passes to monitor entry to Pat Dye Field during home football games.

With the specific guidelines for field access dictated by the Southeastern Conference (SEC) due to COVID-19, Auburn’s RFID Lab and Auburn Athletics have teamed up to use handheld scanners, floor mat readers and antennas in Jordan-Hare Stadium, to confirm that persons entering the field have met the prescribed guidelines. 

“Field-gate workers scan each person’s field pass,” said Justin Patton, RFID Lab director. “The scanner’s screen lets them know if the person has been recently tested. Everyone in close and regular contact with student-athletes, coaches and game officials needs to have passed a recent COVID-19 test to enter the field. It also shows a photo of the person the pass is issued to, so people cannot swap passes.”

“RFID is an excellent, added measure to monitor event venue access. End-user organizations can track pass holders’ movements at a venue and state confidently that they are working with a person that has met policy and that they are where they are supposed to be during the event,” — Kris Barton, Director, Market Development RFID at Avery Dennison Smartrac.

The solution leverages the Avery Dennison Smartrac Web RFID inlay attached to a field pass and its own serial number identity, which is detected by a scanner 5 to 10 feet away.

The screening, using the RFID Lab’s proprietary software, is only for persons using field passes, such as coaches, media and others approved under SEC policy to access the field. It does not include student-athletes, who are monitored constantly by their institutions, or fans in the stands.

“RFID is an excellent, added measure to monitor event venue access. End-user organizations can track pass holders’ movements at a venue and state confidently that they are working with a person that has met policy and that they are where they are supposed to be during the event,” said Kris Barton, director, market development RFID at Avery Dennison Smartrac.

During the week prior to a game, Auburn Athletics submits all field passes, including those for the visiting team, to the RFID Lab, which adds RFID tags to them. The tags are encoded with a unique ID number, which is entered into a database. No personal information is stored on the tag.

The database is pre-generated by the Auburn Athletics operations team and includes information required to meet SEC policy. The lab adds the RFID tag numbers to the database when placing tags on the field passes.

Auburn University - stadium

At each game, RFID Lab students set up the system and distribute scanners to field-gate workers who scan the passes. A team of three or four students from the lab helps monitor the scanning at the stadium.

Thus far, the RFID system has indicated everyone entering the field has met SEC policy. There have been a couple of incidents of people associated with a visiting team who did not have an approved field pass. The RFID scanner detected it was not an issued field pass, so they were not allowed to enter the field.

“The passes were for stadium access but not field access, and we were able to recognize that quickly with the RFID tag,” Patton said. “We can certainly apply this technology in the future as we continue to assist in providing a healthy, safe and secure game day.”

Persons entering the field also walk across RFID-scanning mats that record when each person enters and exits the field. In addition, antennas are placed around the field so the RFID Lab can see sections of the field accessed by each person. This provides more extensive contact tracing, should the need arise.

The RFID monitoring system originated this summer when Auburn Athletics asked the RFID Lab to help do an inventory of RFID-tagged gear and clothing.

“We had the idea the RFID Lab could help with field access monitoring,” Patton said. “We have worked with the football equipment management team in the past, and this has been an extension of that relationship.” He adds that RFID was used during graduation in August to help honor new graduates by showing their individual names on the Jordan-Hare video board. RFID tags were placed on name cards that were scanned when graduates walked across the stage. The system was connected to the video board to display their names.

The RFID system to monitor limited access areas at the venue will expand to other sports and events at Auburn, and could lead to opportunities for other schools or sports clubs to deploy the system.

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