Building an RFID Race Timing System

Have you ever thought about timing your races yourself? Building your own RFID timing system? Perhaps even building a small race timing business on the side as a way to diversify your income?

Well, doing your own race timing is certainly not for everyone. For most race directors, managing their own race timing is the last thing they need on race day. Nevertheless, DIY race timing is exactly the route many race directors choose to go down, either to save money, try their hands at building a race timing side-business or simply for the enjoyment of building their own RFID timing system.

Today I’ll be talking to Brian Agee of Agee Race Timing, a man very well-known among DIY race timing enthusiasts not only for his very popular race timing software, but also for his willingness to share with others everything he’s learned building and operating DIY race timing.

Over the next hour or so, we’ll be touching on a few things with Brian, from choosing the right components for your race timing system to bringing everything together, setting up your system correctly, and avoiding some common race day pitfalls. 

In this episode:

  • What is an open hardware timing system and who is it suitable for
  • Pros and cons of open timing systems vs branded/proprietary systems (MYLAPS, Chronotrack, IPICO etc)
  • How proprietary systems use password-protected tags and what that means for the ongoing operating cost of your branded system.
  • The main components of a DIY timing system: reader, antennas, cables, tags, software
  • Mat antennas vs panel antennas
  • Passive vs active RFID tags
  • 2-port vs 4-port RFID readers
  • The cost of building a DIY RFID timing system
  • Chip starts/chip times: when you need them and when you don’t
  • Recommended RFID tag placement: bib tags vs shoe tags vs wrist tags
  • Double tagging: pros and cons of using two tags per runner
  • The cost of buying RFID tags
  • Making disposable tags reusable 
  • Programming/encoding your RFID tags
  • Inexpensive backup systems for your main RFID timing system: camcorders, capturing backup times manually, using secondary RFID systems

If you are building and operating your own system, Race Timing Hub is our Facebook group dedicated just to race timing and building race timing systems, so come join that and people, including Brian, will be glad to help out with any questions you may have.

Thanks to GiveSignup|RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 22,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use GiveSignup|RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about GiveSignup|RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit runsignup.com.

Episode transcript

Panos  2:26  
Brian, welcome to the podcast! 

Brian  2:28  
Glad to be here. 

Panos  2:29  
Thanks a lot for coming on. You are the owner of Agee Race Timing, which is a race timing software company. But I should say, for the benefit of today's episode, it's a lot more than that. And in fact, one of the main reasons why I sought your expertise for today's podcast is because through Agee Race Timing, you've also been helping lots of people build and learn how to operate race timing systems. So tell us a little bit about Agee Race Timing - what you guys do there and your experience with building RFID timing systems.

Brian  3:10  
Yeah. That was a good setup because, originally, my plan was just to build a race timing software and that's it, for my own personal use. I probably had a similar story to a lot of people that are looking to build their own system, where my first race ever directed, was stuck with this decision of-- and it was for an organization that was very well known. There's a lot of schools that have a-- it's called the FCA, Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Every school in my area had one. And so, I knew that at Arkansas State University where we're trying to start up an FCA program, we could get a lot of support in the community. This race could be large. But we're also a brand new organization and a couple girls in the volleyball team are trying to put together this club. Of course, we had no money. And so, we're stuck with this decision of what if we have 500 people show up? We need to hire a chip timer. But what if we only have 50 and we're in the hole? And so, that was the tough decision. And so, the natural progression and natural journey I feel people go through is they look at, "Okay. Do I time it myself with the card system or popsicles?" That's not fun for anybody. It's basically free, but it's not fun, and results take forever. And the other option, of course, was hiring a chip timer. And then, basically, I feel like, what if I worked for two months, and worst case scenario, go in the hole - the next worst case scenario is I work for two months - and someone else gets all the money from it. And so, I try to find it. Surely, there's some middle of the road option here. Sure, I can download some free Excel-based program. Or maybe there's someone-- because I mean, races are all over the world and races have been around forever. So surely, there's some free program that makes race timing easy. And I downloaded some of the programs and they're good programs. Race director, they score, they've timed all kinds of big events. Good programs. I've met Roger and Alan - good guys - but it's one of the things that they develop software for large events. They have to be able to handle large events. And so, the vast majority of all races around the world are small to medium size road races and stuff. And so, I just was surprised there was nothing that was easy. Nothing didn't have yearly fees and all this stuff. So that's when a seed was planted in my mind to maybe do something about this someday. And that's what I tried to do. So I use a system for a few years - works great, never had intentions of releasing it to the public. I ended up getting married, having twins, and of course, life stops. So I stopped racing for a while. And then, I kept getting emails and calls from race directors and they say, "Hey, man. The timer is killing us." And so that's when I decided that I'm gonna try to release this out to the world. And that involved a dramatic rewrite because the database was not-- it's a SQL Server database, SQL Express. It takes an hour to install and set up. So it took a while to get it all going. But when I released it, the next step was people said, "Hey, can you make it work with RFID hardware?" And so, that's the journey. And that is what we'll talk about today - how to get started, finding equipment, what works, what doesn't work. There's a lot of things that you may think about, say, "Oh, let's try wristbands. Let's try this or that." And you'll discover why no one's using those because some of that stuff looks good on paper, but just doesn't perform well.

What is DIY race timing?

Panos  6:06  
Exactly. And as you said, today, we're going to be talking about how to build an RFID timing system, what hardware you're going to need, how you're going to put it all together, how it all works, how it comes together. But also, very crucially - which is something that I find also in terms of online content out there is missing a little bit - also how to actually use that system in real life to time a race which is really important. But before we go into all that, I think it's really important - and you sort of highlighted it a little bit in your story about how you went into producing the software, and then doing what you do through Agee Race Timing - to spend a minute to discuss, first of all, these timing systems we're gonna be going through the build procedure for. What do we mean when we say, these systems are DIY? And what kinds of people are these systems primarily suitable for?

Brian  7:07  
Some people reached out to me and they say, "Hey, I'm trying to build a system and I've got this reader, but they're not sure what to do after that." So there's a gap here that they fail to see whereas you can't just buy equipment, hook it all together, and then plug into your computer. You've got to have software that allows the data that-- you're going to get a flood of data when a tag comes across. First of all, you have to even be able to tell the reader, "Hey. Start listening." And so, you can't just buy a reader, hook up to your laptop, turn it on, and just magically produces results. You got to have software that does something with this flood of data. So when I hear DIY, there's a certain component of it that's not really DIY, unless you're a software developer or great with data manipulation. I think almost every reader has a little app you can just test the reader out with. And I've seen some people do some pretty creative things with taking the data that splits out from that and then having some Excel program that reads it. But those people are few and far between. So true DIY - if you're doing everything yourself - mean software and everything. So I'd like to qualify your average person is more looking for an open system, not a DIY system. And so an open system basically is no yearly fees. You're not locked into proprietary tags or anything else. And so, I guess I would draw a line between open versus DIY. Yeah. I hope that answers that question.

Open vs proprietary timing systems

Panos  8:30  
Right. Yeah. And I suppose "Open"-- the best comparison for people to understand the kind of system we're talking about is to consider it alongside the branded timing systems that most people would be familiar with. Right? The MYLAPS, the Chronotrack, the IPICO, all of those systems which come in a box. They have the pros and cons, I guess. So how does the system that we're going to be talking about today - which you put together which, as you said, is an open system - compare to some of those systems that you can buy off the shelf from one of the RFID timing system manufacturers? 

Brian  9:11  
In the very beginning of my journey, first thing I did was, "Okay. Let me just see what equipments are out there." And it's a fortunate thing and it's an unfortunate thing that there's so many options. Right? So it's good that there a lot of options but it's also bad, because some of the stuff you want to avoid really. And it's not obvious when you first started like, "Okay. This reader turns out like-- anyone that really knows about timing knows to avoid that reader." Right? So it's good to have some options. But when it comes to the pros, I guess, of the package system is these guys are going to develop a good product because, just like me, they don't want to be hammer with tech support. They don't want the name brand not looking good because the system's not performing well. So the pros of buying a package system is that they've done all the research. They're gonna make sure that you follow in line with what you're supposed to do. And so, where's an open system-- now, of course, taking a step back, if you buy software that allows everything to work together, the software provider is gonna say, "Hey. You need to use this hardware. You need to kind of follow these rules." Because, again, they don't want the tech support, they don't want their name brand not looking good. And so the pros, I guess, of a DIY system, of course, I've mentioned before is the no yearly fees. They're not stuck into proprietary hardware. No price gouging on the things that you do buy from them. Yeah. Cause a lot of systems out there, that's their bread and butters. And I've talked to a couple, they all agree that there's not a whole lot of people in the world that want to be race timers. And so, whenever you do get a customer, a lot of these systems that they've got infrastructure, tech support, development, marketing, executives, everyone they've got to pay, usually what happens is you buy a system, and there's some catch and there's some hook. They've got to make money perpetually. So the benefit of the open system is that, let's say, you time a race once every three years. Well, you're not paying that for system. You're not using it for a couple of years. And so the other benefit, I guess, with open system is that UHF just works. UHF RFID works well. You do have to know the rules of using UHF RFID. And some of those rules I learned, again, it looked good on paper, like, "Oh, I'll try this." And it turns out it didn't work well. But in general, UHF works really well. And I guess that's the main benefits. I mean, the cons of an open system, if you're designing yourself, like I said before, is all the options. I mean, you could really twist yourself into a pretzel trying to figure out what type of antenna should I use. I mean, there's circular, linear, all these other options. And so that's kind of the pros and cons. And again, a software company, if it's-- I know, RunSignup is doing RaceDay Scoring. And I figured that they had to set it public or whatever. I figure eventually it may go to, "Hey, you can plug in your own hardware from wherever you want." I know that was it a web score. They have it to where it's pretty much an open system. Yeah, I think they charge it maybe per finish or something like that, I'm not sure. But all these systems, you have to look at what hardware they work with and follow their rules. But yeah, hope that takes care of that.

Promprietary timing systems and password-protected RFID tags

Panos  11:46  
Yeah. And also, I think, part of the branded system you mentioned there - but sort of, like close the loop on that, the branded system - as you said, there's probably, sometimes, a structure where even after having bought the system, the company needs to make revenue from the systems. One of the way in which this is done is by those systems - the off-the-shelf branded systems - working with specific tags that those companies provide to you. So for instance, then, you don't perhaps get some of the benefits of just going out in the open market and buying any kind of tag that would work with a DIY system, that might not work with a branded system. Is that right?

Brian  12:30  
Yeah. They're password protected tags which means that, well, I guess, I mean-- I guess I wanted to find too much how those other systems work, cause I don't see the internals. But, yeah. You can't buy tags from anywhere. And some of the systems you can't even-- let's say that you and I are in the same system, same company and everything, I couldn't use your reader. Let's say you live down the street from me. Yeah, I couldn't use your reader. It's very, very locked down. There's a lot of pushback on that. And that's why when I first released this, I didn't really have a lot of marketing around it. And in fact, I still don't have a lot. People come to me simply because of Google searching, "How to do it yourself system." So I think there's a lot of demand out there for something that's open source or open hardware. And again, I've talked to a couple of these companies. They all agree that like the vast majority of their customer base is your mom and pop who can run your small to medium sized races. So that's how I feel like, that a lot of timers, if they never really time a race with over 5,000 participants, they probably should go with an open system. And then, yeah, that's the other thing. It's those box systems. If you look at their websites, a lot of them are advertising, "Hey. We're the most precise or we time the biggest races in the world." But for every one big race, you're going to have probably 100 or more small races. And UHF RFID is kind of a silly argument for one system to promote itself over another for being the more accurate one because, by nature, UHF RFID is not a laser precise finished photo system. 

What components make up an RFID timing system?

Panos  13:50  
Right. Okay. So moving on to the nitty gritty of building such a system, can you walk us through the major components that are required by such a system and how they come together and how they work together?

Brian  14:09  
Oh, yeah. So obviously, the main component is the reader so we'll start there. So the reader, it's got no moving components - just a reader there. And it usually comes in a couple different configurations. If you see this online, it'll say 2-port, for example, FX7400 2-port, FX7500, or whatever, or a 2-port Impinj reader, whatever. So the 2-ports means you can hook up to two antennas to it. And then a 4-port reader, obviously, means up to four antennas. 8-port reader up to eight. What's interesting, take a little sidetrack here is some people make an argument that the less the antennas, the better. We can dig into that later. But that the number of ports really indicates the number of antennas you can have hooked up to it. So that's the main components. It's the reader. The reader is going to connect to your laptop. Now, other systems, of course, can do Bluetooth connections, whatever else. And you can do this even with open but your standard setup is going to be a reader that's hooked up to your laptop with an ethernet cord. So ethernet cord, you probably have those later in-house. So it didn't have to be special ethernet cord - just a standard ethernet cable. And so the reader hooks up to the laptop, ethernet. Now, the reader is just the brains. It didn't have ears or mouth to try to echo out, "Hey, what tags are out there?" So you have to have antennas that hook up to the reader, again, with the 2-port, 4-port, or whatever. A lot of people would use either a mat antenna or panel antennas. My recommendation is get the best of both worlds. There's a company in China, I think, called Feibot. It's the only Chinese product I recommend. They make a really good quality mat antenna that's very good value. In fact, one of their panel or mat antennas is equal to the price - maybe less - of four panel antennas. And so what I actually recommend is get one of those mats - four meters wide - and then get one or two panels open on the side. That way you're reading from below and from the sides. And for you to go through my finish line, even in a tight group, it's really hard to miss you. So get the reader, get the ethernet cord. Obviously, you have a laptop. Most people already have that. That does the work with the software and everything. I get the antennas. And I guess the final component is the tags. And so that's the core equipment. Laptop reader connects the-- the reader connects to the laptop via ethernet cord. The antennas out there, whether it'd be mat antenna or panels, they're going to have - well, one of the component I guess is - the cables that connect the antenna to the reader. Let me go through it one last time. Reader, ethernet cord, laptop, antennas, antenna cables, and tags. That's your core components.

Mat vs panel RFID antennas

Panos  16:25  
Perfect. And you mentioned there, for people who may not be super familiar with the distinction, you mentioned mat antennas - even if they don't know much about timing systems, they would be familiar with, if they've done big races where you actually have like, you go over the finish line and there is a long mat - that's actually an antenna reading tags as you go over it both at the start and the finish line versus panel antennas which are more like they don't obstruct, there's nothing on the road, they're just on the side, or up top or somewhere on the finish arch or something and they just record crosses. They just record times without actually having to be laid down on the floor. So for people who might be interested in knowing this, where would I best use one over the other?

Brian  17:21  
Yes, great question. Because if let's say that you're a person that wants to time inline rollerskating races, well, would you want those people-- and those guys are moving. I've been to a couple of races, pretty amazing to watch those. But those guys are fun and those inline skaters do not want to roll over a mat. And so that's a good case where you're going to have some kind of arch structure that brings the antenna cable over to the side and maybe you want to use panels on each side. Cycling races - same way. I mean a bicycle going over a mat is not a big deal but, in my opinion, I think that panel antennas would be better. So obviously, there's a million types of races out there. Just think that through like, "Okay, is it a problem for someone speeding through my finish line? Will a mat get in the way?" Even with panel antennas, if you don't have some kind of arch structure or if you're timing in the dirt, we're saying, of course, you can bear the cables there. But keep in mind that with panel antennas, if it's on the road, you're gonna have rubber mats covering the cables so people don't trip on them. Here's the thing, for years, I use just panel antennas. Great read rates. Never had any issues even with chip starts with thousands of people flowing through. And so, now, with those by the way, you need to understand, "Okay, with panel antennas, you want to keep the starting line as narrow as possible - so that when we get people pass, they're as close to the antennas as possible - but not so narrow, it's uncomfortable for the runners. So the point is panel antennas, in most cases, can do the job no matter what type of event you're timing. A lot of people do like the convenience of the mat because it simply unfolds and you're done. And so here's the thing, imagine yourself, if you're a race timer, you show up before the sun gets up. You're there before anybody gets there because often I like to have my finish line totally set up before anybody is there to register anything. That way, your brain can think about one thing at a time - think about my finish line setup, getting all the timing stuff ready. Now, let me focus on registration. After registration is over, okay, now let me focus on the start and so on. And so the mat antenna is really convenient. You could just unfold it. It could be cold. It could be dark. It's really easy. You're not having to hook a panel antenna up to like a tripod or set up a truss in the dark, whatever. You just unfold it, connect your reader, and you're done. But there's some drawbacks to the mat. I don't think it performs as well as the panels. But that's why I said before, I like to use the mat plus a couple of antennas. That way, I only set up one panel antenna on one side of the finish line. On the other side of the finish line, I've got my mat teed up to where it reads sideways. In most cases, I think the panels are your best bet if you're just getting started and you want to play the system.

Passive vs active RFID tags

Panos  19:43  
And in terms of the tags that you mentioned there, is a system like this going to be able to accommodate both passive tags and active tags and basically any kind of RFID tag?

Brian  19:54  
A UHF RFID tag, yeah. So you can't buy like a NFC or whatever else. Your UHF readers read UHF tags. But yes, active and passive no problems. To be honest, I've never been to a race - and I've ran races all over the world and hundreds of races since I started running, and I don't know if I've ever been to a race - that use passive tags. Now there are needs for them. But again, it's just one of those niche races where active is really the better, maybe in mud runs or something where the tag could be covered. But yes, it'll read both. But it's highly unlikely that your average timer is ever gonna need to bypass active tags.

Panos  20:30  
Right. So most races, they use passive tags - the ones that people would be familiar with like the little foamy stuff you stick up the back of the bib, right?

Brian  20:39  
Yeah, the dogbones. And that's even debatable whether or not their foam is necessary. And it's even debatable whether or not the foam is patented. So yeah, most timers just avoid worrying about any patent concerns until all that's worked out. I'm not going to get into what else is going on now in the industry, but the read rates, again, is debatable. But I've got a lot of customers that don't use the foam and just slap a dogbone at the back of the bib and they get great results. 

2-port vs 4-port RFID timing systems

Panos  21:05  
Right. So in terms of an entry level system, I guess, the main choice would be do I build a 2-port system that can support two antennas or do I build a 4-port system which supports four antennas which, obviously, is going to be more expensive? Or do I even go beyond that? And the question is, what is the price difference between a 2-port and a 4-port? Which one would you recommend as a first-time buy? And what kind of limitations would building one over the other one have?

Brian  21:40  
So it's interesting question because if you're like me, my objective was to say, "How cheap can I go and still get great results? Right? I mean, how cheap can I go and still reliably get 100% where, again, even my timing guys now-- we timed about 70, maybe more, obviously, last year was low but we timed 70 plus races a year. And so I don't want to get a system that makes my timing system or timing services or business looks bad. But just for playing with UHF RFID, trying to learn how it all works and having a system that can handle almost every race a 2-port reader is fine. Now once you get a probably, let's say for a 5K, probably over 300 people, then you start thinking, "Okay. Maybe go and get a 4-port reader." I guess the way to think about it is not how many people. It's how busy is your finish line. So if you were timing a one mile race, I'd say, "Okay. Hey, maybe 100 people is where you start want to get more antennas." So that's, I guess, there's no hard lines on this. Just think about how busy is my finish line. If I've got multiple occurrences of two or more people crossing at the same time - that's very frequent for our race - then, the more antennas, the better. Because let's say you and I cross at the exact same time. And, of course, you could set a tag on each side of your body or if you're using a bib tag, whatever, it depends on your antenna placement. But it's very possible if you've got, let's say, only side panel antennas and you now cross at the same time. And let's say that you tell the participants, "Oh, just put the tag anywhere in your body, maybe on the side of your shorts. You can pin it to the shorts at the side or slide under a shoelace." Well, then it's highly likely that as we go through the finish line, maybe your body is blocking my tag for that short window they would cross by the antennas. And so that's kind of a long answer. But the basic principle is, if you could find like a $50 reader on eBay for this 2-ports, well then buy that, test it out, see if it works for you just to get comfortable with the system. And then, you also have a backup reader if you decide to upgrade your readers later. And that 2-port reader, you can use as a turnaround point at the marathon or something. And so it's not a bad idea to get that. Your average person - it was probably best starting with a 4-port reader, four antennas. There's a discussion on my users' group years ago where people said, "Hey, if I had this to do again, would you start with a 4-port or a 8-port?" Everybody unanimously said, "Go with the biggest reader you can because when word gets that you got timing system, your business will grow." I'd tell people that, usually, when I time a race, I come home with two - the one I just timed wants me back next year, and then, someone says, "Oh, I'm thinking about-- or we have this race and they hired me, or want to talk to me about doing their race." And so you should find that every year, your number of races almost double. And so if you start off with the 2-port reader, you'd be upgrading pretty quick.

How much does it cost to build an RFID timing system?

Panos  24:18  
Right. And in terms of the cost, what's the relative cost of, let's say, building a 2-port system versus a 4-port system, or even an 8-port to begin with?

Brian  24:27  
Sure. So, yeah. The 2-port reader-- let's just go with full price, full MSRP top, you're gonna pay just-- again, a couple reasons, number one, a lot of people want to get that brand new vs used, and what if it doesn't work. But the other thing is with the chip shortage going on in the world right now, you can hardly find used readers. And so, let's just go with brand new. I don't have the price reference. It's probably about $800 for a 2-port reader. Something like the Impinj or the Motorolas or Zebras. And then, for the 4-port model from us, cause I think we press it right at MSRP to make sure we never take a loss. But it's $1,150, I think. It's what we charge for a 4-port model. And then your 8-port model is $1,600, $1,500, $1,700. So the other part of it is that for $500 more, you get twice the ports. So a lot people say, "Hey, I'll just go and pay the extra $500 and get an 8-port reader versus a four. The big benefit with eight versus four is that, let's say you want to use a mat antenna, most mat antenna is going to-- if they have four antennas built into the mat, that takes that four every ports. And so, if you have a 4-port reader and you have a mat, and you want to put a side panel too, that means you got to unhook one of your mat cables and put the side panel up. So the more ports you have, the more options you have. It's what it is. Usually, some thinner size, where they get two rows of mats, you could definitely go with 2-port or 4-port readers - one for each mat - or you can do an 8-port reader and control all of them. Again, the pros and cons of both, we can get into that if you want, on how readers work, and how they cycled, and where you may find more ports is not good in some situations. But, yeah. That's the price point. It's roughly $1,700 for the 8-port, $1,200 roughly for the 4-port, and then maybe $800 for the 2-port.

Panos  26:07  
And in terms of sort of-- just to give people an idea of what the total cost for a system would be - including the reader, the antennas, cables, software, like ballpark - what kind of figure we're talking about?

Brian  26:24  
So if somebody ever releases free software, that would be amazing. Now, a lot of people can make software that's half patched together and whatever. I'm talking about software that works really well. It's clean and whatever. That would be amazing. In fact, I've always told RunSignup that if somebody releases software that's amazing, and easy, and does everything people need, then I'll step aside. I've got a good job. I write police software for a living. I did this because I saw a huge hole in the market. So we have to add the cost of software. And we had to go with piece of mind because I don't know if any of the software out there that's open hardware. So I charge $900, a one time fee, for the software. Even if you add on other timing syst-- or other timing crews, there's no extra cost. So that's $900 for the software. And then, the reader, like we said before, let's imagine you got the top-of-the-line reader, the FX9600. That's the only 8-port model that I'm aware of. There are some Chinese brands that are 8-ports, but I haven't been able to interface with the Chinese readers, the documentation is not the best. And so that's gonna be $1,700. And then you've got the antennas. Again, the mat antenna from Feibot is roughly $600 for the four meter mat. Or you can go with panel antennas, let's say four, because for most races, four antennas is all you ever gonna need. And so that's probably around-- well, the mat is $600. And so the panel's gonna be around the same for four panels. And then you've got the tags. That's the big variable. It's how many tags you want. If you're going to time a race-- 

Panos  27:54  
Well, let's leave the tags out of it for now. Just the price of the hardware itself.

Brian  28:00  
Sure. So the hardware itself without the software is like $2,300 for the 4-port model. And that's all brand new stuff. And then, with the 4-port or the 8-port model, it is - I've got it pulled up here, let me see - $2,870. And that includes the ethernet cord, which you may already have. That includes a battery backup. I think, critical component of your timing system, if you're thinking about building your own, you've got to have some kind of battery backup, a UPS battery backup or something because - if you show up at a race and - these readers are very sensitive to power fluctuations, by the way. So if you plug your reader into a generator, you're just asking for trouble. The generator can fluctuate or whatever. It'll say you just sent a print job out and the generator kicks up and your readers down. And so you want to have a UPS battery backup. So that process includes the reader, that includes the power supply to the reader, includes a 10 foot ethernet cord, includes four circular antennas, includes mounting brackets to be able to put those antennas onto tripods. It includes tripods. It includes a two 15 foot antenna cables, and also a 250 foot ethernet antenna cables. That way, if you want to go through your arch or under or whatever, and then you have the tripods and then the software. So the software included on top of that would be roughly $3,500 - $3,600 for everything.

Panos  29:14  
Right. So $3,500 - $3,600 for the 8-port. 

Brian  29:19  
That's the top-of-the-line.

Panos  29:21  
Top-of-the-line 8-port, $3,600. And then, roughly about $800 less sort of, like, high $2,000 - $2,800 or something for a 4-port.

Brian  29:30  
Yeah. Right around $3,000 for the 4-port, including the software and everything.

Interview break

Panos  29:37  
So you're building your own RFID timing system - you're gonna need some timing software. Well, there's a few options on the market for you, some more reliable than others, and there's currently one leading piece of timing software you definitely want to look into: RaceDay Scoring.

RaceDay Scoring has absolutely everything you'll ever need to time and score your race. It integrates with all popular branded timing systems - like Chronotrack, MYLAPS and Race Result - and it can be configured to work with any custom timing system you build.

With Race Day Scoring you get live results, that can feed to your registration system giving you real time participant text notifications, you get all the different scoring configurations you'll ever going to need - you can score age groups, you can score relays, by anything you need, really - and you even get a manual timing option, so you can manage your backup times in the same system that's doing your main chip timing.

And probably one of the best things about RaceDay Scoring is the price. RaceDay Scoring works on a subscription basis, and you pay based on the number of participants you want to time. So if you want to time 10,000 participants you'll pay $400, and if you're only timing 2,500, you'll only pay $150 - which works out to literally only a few cents per participant. And if the races you are timing are hosted on GiveSignup|RunSignup you get a further massive discount on those prices of between 25% and 80%.

So, when you do come to consider your timing software purchase, definitely give RaceDay Scoring a look. You can find more information on the RaceDay Scoring suite, the pricing and the amazing team behind the software, on the RaceDay Scoring website, racedayscoring.blog - that's racedayscoring.blog.

Okay, now let's get back to talking RFID timing systems with Brian Agee. Next up: using your RFID timing system on race day. 

Using your RFID timing system to time a race

Panos  31:29  
So, now, moving on to, I built my system, I've tested it out, just using it practically in a race. So first of all, let's go over the principle of, I mean, I suppose people may not necessarily know that when we're talking about a timing system, we're actually thinking of a single timing point, right? So wherever you lay down your system, you're going to be recording a time at that point. And I guess if you have maybe an out and back course, or a loop course or something, maybe just a single system at the start/finish line - which is essentially the same point - would work fine. But if you have a point-to-point system, then I guess you either get two systems for your start and finish line, or just don't have one at the start line if you want to be on a budget and just put it at the finish line. Or do you even think of moving it during the race? So how does that consideration work in terms of me thinking how many timing systems I would need for the type of event I have?

Brian  32:43  
Yeah. So of course, I've done everything you mentioned. I've moved it. I've course done that starts and finishes multiple, three or four out of the course and whatever, all that stuff. So the advice I give my customers is, "If you ask the race director if they want a chip start, what's their answer's going to be 100% of the time?" Yes, right? Let's say the race has 50 people in it. You ask them, "Do you want to chip start for 50 people?" For sure. Right? So number one, you have to understand when is it necessary when-- yeah, don't even bring it up. If they ask you specifically, and they have a good reason-- but let's say that you're hiring me to time a race and you said, "Hey, can we do a chip start?" And I see that you have 50 people every year, I'm gonna say, "Well, look, we can do it." But I kind of explained that in a very polite, very respectful way that it doesn't make any sense.

Panos  33:30  
And by the way, just to clarify for people listening in, a chip start would be when you would actually time people from the time where they actually crossed the start line.

Brian  33:43  
Correct. 

Panos  33:43  
Right. 

Brian  33:44  
It's interesting that I kind of make fun of the 50-person race. Because what happened last year, of course, with COVID we all started separate it. And so yes, with every race we timed last year, no matter what the size was, we offered a window to say, "Hey, look, you can start anytime, really. Just basically say you'd need-- let's say your race started at eight, I would say, "Hey, you can start separately. If you want to wait, sit in the car, wait for everyone to leave, whatever. And we just had a time limit to say, 'Okay, you need to start by 830'." And that way people can start whenever they want to. So some of the stories I tell, I'm thinking back before COVID that 50 person race now truly may need a chip start if they still want to keep things separated or whatever.

Panos  34:21  
Right. Because essentially they need to start people off distanced, right? And still people need to have an accurate time from the point when they cross the start line to the point where they cross the finish line, which if they start-- as a race director, for safety reasons, you're starting people off every 20 or 30 seconds, you can just assume that everyone went off at 8AM. You need to be giving people the benefit of where they cross the start line and you need the timing system for that to be at the start line to know when people cross that start line.

Brian  34:56  
Yeah, obviously, if we're doing a race where the start and finish are the exact same location, I don't care how many people is in it. They want to do a chip start - no big deal. Because as you probably alluded to, it's just a flip of a switch, basically, in the software like, "Okay. I'm doing chip start and now I'm doing finish." And so easy peasy, why not? But if you're asking me, the starting line is three miles away from the finish line, and you've got 50 people, and there's no COVID requirements, maybe I'll do it if you want me to, but I may add an extra charge on top of that just because of, you know, whatever. Now, if it's a large race, I would do it without adding any extra cost  because larger races usually pay a little more. So you get some benefits out of that. Plus, this is expected if you've got-- a good example, I guess, is if your race had over 500 people, and it's a dead method, the distance, I guess, then I would say, "If you want a chip start, yeah, I'll do that." But you're right. You would have to have two separate systems. Now there's been some races where the starting line and finish line aren't the same but they're close enough to where I've been able to carry the equipment. And so let's imagine this and think through what you would need, you'd need to bring your laptop, you need to bring a battery backup, again, that's-- and that's really all you have to bring - an inexpensive battery backup. A lot of people don't know this. The reader uses very, very little power. And so inexpensive battery backup. And I don't have the numbers but it's like 625 volt battery backup, whatever. You can buy them at Walmart or Best Buy or whatever for like $50 - $60. And by the way, some people come up with some really fancy crazy, really neat battery stuff - I'm not an electrical guy, but with a DIY system - whatever is reliable for your reader. But an inexpensive battery backup will keep your reader powered on for about three hours - non-stop reading. Okay? And so, usually when I'm doing a chip start, that's maybe close enough. I can just carry the equipment over. I'll bring my laptop, reader, battery backup, and then whatever antennas and cables I need to do the job. And that's something I can easily put into a tote. After it's done, carry it back over the finish line, unload it, and whatever. Obviously, you get the consideration of what if it's a 5K. And, yes, you got a little rush there because you only have 15, 16, 17 minutes from the moment they start to the moment they finish. So, yeah. If it's a super short race, it's kind of a risk to be carrying equipment around. But, yeah, it's doable. 

Panos  37:07  
Yeah. You need to know your stuff, though. Yeah, I agree. I mean, it's probably not an entry level thing to have a 5K, and to be thinking that you'll be able to manage putting a race, putting your timing system at the start line, and then having to move it and set it up and be confident that it works before the first runner crosses the finish line. It's a little bit-- 

Brian  37:31  
Yeah.

Panos  37:33  
You need nerves of steel for that, for sure.

Brian  37:36  
Yeah, I'm sure. I don't know if we plan on talking about backup systems. But most races if you've been around races, you'd know that the first 10% of runners are those female or male studs that are out there by themselves. And so, if you've got some kind of backup system, even if you're a minute or  two late - I mean, hopefully, God forbid you are - hopefully you'd catch the bulk of the people and have to do a couple many manual entries. But yeah, carrying the equipment, I've only done a couple times over the years. But it's possible.

Panos  38:01  
Right. So then, just to wrap up the whole, kind of, how many systems do I need for my race? Goes without saying, you need one at the finish line. Now, if your course's start line and finish line are at the same point, fantastic, because then you get two reads however long apart, and you assume first one is the start, second one is the finish. Then, if your course is more of a point-to-point, and you really, really want to have, as you said, a chip time, meaning from the point where the person cross the start line - which would make sense if you have lots of runners, that one cross within a second or two as in the 50 person race in the old days, pre-COVID - then you would need two systems at least, start and finish. And then anything in between, I guess, you have a long race, you have the ambitions in your marathon to be giving split times at 10K, 20K, whatever. You need to have a system there.

Brian  39:05  
Yeah, and most of the marathons we timed is not about providing the split times. It's just providing evidence that this person completed the whole course. Right? And so obviously, it's a nice benefit for the runner to be able to say, "Oh, here is your 10K split. Here's your whatever." But a lot of marathons, they do it for the two benefits of, "Here's your splits and you didn't cheat."

Ideal tag placement for optimal RFID read rates: bib tags vs show tags vs wrist tags

Panos  39:22  
Okay. So now that we've clarified that, let's move on to one very important aspect of all this, particularly for people who are just starting out races with systems like these. What do I need to consider to make sure that I get as high of a read rate with my system as possible? What do I need to do with my tags? What do I tell my runners? How do I set up my system at the finish line? And I appreciate there's gonna be tons of tips here. But what are the key basic things that I need to think about to make sure that my system works optimally and I'm capturing as many reads as I can?

Brian  40:06  
Sure. And I guess I'll echo back to something you said earlier about when you first get a system and you go to test it out. Well, so what I tell people about this is that - because everyone has their own idea of what they want to do, and I can tell people, "Hey, there are absolute 100% reliable ways to do this." But they may say, "Well, I want to do this because this is what's popular in my area." So the first thing you should do is when you get a system in - and I kind of joke about it but it's the reality, and I don't mean physically break it, but you want to see-- it's worth the price of pizza to invite a bunch of your friends over - if you're a coach buying a system, bring it to the track and say, "All right, fellas, or ladies, or whatever, we're going to try to break the system." So if you want to try bib tags, slap a bib on the chest, and then try to say, "All right. Everybody's sprint through as fast as you can. Did we miss anybody? All right. Well, now, let me turn my antennas this way, or let me do that. Let me shift things around." So I mean, it would be pretty irresponsible for your first time to test that and hope it works was at a race. Right? So first thing you should do is, whatever setup you want to go with, get some pizza and invite a bunch of people over and try to break it. Figure out what works and what doesn't work. What you'll find, if it was a UHF RFID, you can flick a tag in front of the antennas as fast as you want and it's gonna pick it up every time. But you can also take a wet paper towel or a piece of aluminum foil or your pinky finger and cover the tag and they can't see it. So you have to understand like, "Okay, there's some things you got to know about." And so my advice for people, and what I've found is, "When I first built the system, I assumed that these other systems that were slapping tags on the back of the bib, that "Okay, I'm gonna piggyback off their research. There's nothing that says I can't throw a tag on the back of the bib. So I'm gonna try that, and I would set antennas up in different places." And what I would find is that most of the time it'd get picked up. No problems. But every now and then, I'd run through and  it'd miss me. And now, wait a minute, how can I flick a tag as fast as I want, and they get me every time? But if I stick the tag on my bib, they have missed me every now and then - very rare but every now and then. What would you learn is that tags are very sensitive to water. And so when you sweat, what's the wettest part of your body? And so what's also the thickest part of your body? And so, what I quickly discovered was that a lot of these systems, they were pushing bib tags. And they offer no other solution, by the way. They offer just - not all, but some offer just - bib tags. And they've told me by the way, it's like, "That's our cash cow." That's how we-- this is the base of staying in business. And so, if you're going to use bib tags, test it like crazy. Try overhead, try side-mounted, try different things. And you got to test those stuff anyways because if you've got a mat antenna, it may require, based on the mat you have, tags or horizontal on the back of the bib or vertical on the back of the bib. But my recommendation is, and I never intended to make no tags, I'm not trying to pitch this, but I'll tell you what I'd do. Because I didn't patent this as an appropriate, I tell my customers, "There's plenty of them that make their own tags." What I found was when the tag is placed on the dryer part of the body and the skinnier part of the body - for me, it's having pinned it to the side of the shorts or have to slide it down a shoelace - then it gets picked up every time reliably. Obviously, you can have some situation where someone takes a shoe off, stick a tag in there, and put the shoe back on. I've actually seen that. Or you got some girls with yoga pants that have a little side pocket that's real tight, and they can stick their tag in there without pressing too hard up against the skin. So it can be a problem. But what I found is that when the tag is on the skinnier part of the body and the drier part of the body, it comes across directly facing the side panel antennas. You just can't miss them. So that's my recommendation, but I'm only going to recommend what's gonna give me, yeah, again, what's gonna make me look good - the software and this tech support. Some people thought about using like slap-on wristbands back in the old days - that slap braces or whatever. I wouldn't do any kind of wristbands. I haven't found that those would work well. Because imagine you got people crossing the line with their hands up in the air, cheering or whatever, and they're pushing that antenna away from the mat antenna or way above the reach, maybe, of the side panels. So you want to put the tag in a position that is going to come across pretty consistent every time. And so, typically, that's going to be the bibs, the shoes, or the side of the shorts.

Double-tagging runners: pros and cons

Panos  44:00  
So I've seen, actually, some people online because we have - and it's going to be in the notes - a group on Facebook, very popular group, just for people who are interested in race timing. It's called Race Timing Hub, and you're there and quite quite a lot of people who actually start on that journey to building their system and testing and scaling systems like this go there and they discuss things. And one of the things that sometimes comes up is this suggestion that people might use two tags, for instance. So instead of sending out runners with one tag, you give them two tags, sort of like the equivalent of the double mask, I guess, now they're wearing, sort of, like, COVID times and people understand that. Does that make sense to you doing the double tag thing? Does it improve things?

Brian  44:48  
Man, I'm glad you asked because I wouldn't have brought that up. That's a good question. I'll prefer double tagging. A couple reasons. Number one, again, the tags that I designed and I'll tell you how to make it. They're simply laminated RFID and laser. That's all it is. I simply laminate it. And now they're reusable. Because they're reusable, it doesn't cost me any more to double tag you versus single tag if I had the tags. Right? And so when you put a single tag on a person, let's say it's a cross country race, you've got a bunch of kids in it. Kids are kids. Who knows what they're gonna do with those tags. And so what I like to do is I like to double tag. That way, I'm twice as likely to be able to sit back and just enjoy the race. Right? If I double tag you-- let's imagine that scenario earlier whereas a tight group coming through, and I've got antennas on both sides, maybe even a mat antenna down below, if I double tag you and four people come across at the same time, then it's highly unlikely that at least one of your tags is not gonna get picked up by at least one of the antennas. And so it's really rare for us. And again, we time 70 plus races a year. And there's over 500 race timing companies using my software. And so I hear a lot of feedback on what works and didn't work. Yeah. So that Race Timing Hub is a great resource. I've got a user's forum that's a great resource. And you'll hear on there like, "Hey, I found that this doesn't work. Don't do this or whatever." But yeah, double tagging is what I recommend. The single tag is gonna save a little money, I guess, if you just bought just what you need, but most people buy more than they need. But yeah, let's just imagine it doubles your chances for a 100%. That's what everyone wants. It's a 100% read rate consistently.

Panos  46:19  
And with a double tag, would the recommendation be that you place each of the two tags at a different part of the body or something or is it more for redundancy, both of them at the same place?

Brian  46:31  
So I'm kind of indifferent of where you place it. The only rule that you got to follow with this is that you can't place two tags, let's say that I gave you a-- because the way I do my bibs is I'll take two laminated tags, and I'll take one safety pin and I'll attach it to the bib. So now, you've got a bib when you show up at my race that's got two tags hanging off of it. And so the problem is that if a person thinks, "Oh, I'll just take this one safety pin and leave both tags hanging off of it and I'll pin it to myself." Well, now you've got two tags that are sandwiched together. They're basically touching each other or they're really, really close. That's the one thing where I've seen where there's misses - two tags sandwiched on top of each other, can kind of cancel each other out. So really, I don't really care how you place them but they need to be separated by a couple inches. And yes, ideally, I would place one at each side of their body so that I can read one of your tags at one of the sides of your body, should it get picked up.

What do RFID tags cost?

Panos  47:20  
And since we're onto tags now, and earlier, when I asked you about the cost of building a system, we only focused on the hardware, can you give us an idea of what buying a bunch of tags for an open system like this generally costs?

Brian  47:35  
So, yeah. It's been a while since I've looked at dogbone tags. You used to go buy those for less than 25 cents a piece, maybe even less than 20 in some places. And so, that's why they're pretty popular - pretty inexpensive. Just throw them on the back of the bib and, of course, you got to program the tag or have a cross reference file based on the system you're using. But, yeah. Dogbones that are on the back of the bib are typically 15 to 20 cents a piece. The ones that we use for the laminated tags, we buy those at 10 cents a piece. But of course, we're buying those at $15,000 at a time or whatever. And so that's kind of the cost you're looking at now. Let's say you went through the whole process of laminating, I'm making the tags reusable, which again, that's what I do, because I don't want to have to always be worrying about inventory of tags with as many races we've timed. I don't want to have to be constantly thinking about, "Okay. Do I have enough for next weekend?" Or whatever. And I'm constantly buying more and all that stuff. And plus, with the chips shortage, it's even hard to find tags now. So it's even more of an attraction to use reusable tags. But, yeah. That's the price you're looking at. It's 10 cents, roughly, if you buy in bulk. If you don't buy in bulk, you're still gonna pay 15 or 20 cents, even for the short squiggles - what we use for the hip tags or shoe tags. And so the one rule too, by the way, is if you're going to use bib tags, there's only one tag you should use. Now, I know that there's a couple companies that I know Race Results has come up with their own design and I think it's cool, I trust their work. They're really good at what they do. So they have a good bib tag. But in general, for an open source tag, you're gonna wanna use the dogbone tag only for the back of the bib. You could use different tags but you're gonna have to multiple tag the back of the bib.

Programming/encoding your RFID tags

Panos  49:07  
Right. Okay. Yeah. And the dogbone you mentioned there is a super popular tag. Whoever just gets into this world, they'll come across this very, very soon - super popular tag. So one last thing on tags - just to give people an idea on that as well - I get my tags in, how do I actually program them to match my participant list? And how does that whole thing of the encoding of the tags and the tags telling the reader who the runner crosses the line is? How does that whole thing work? 

Brian  49:41  
Sure. So let's say that you're listening to this, and you're a developer and you plan on developing your own system, you get two considerations. If you're not a developer, you just have to do whatever the software company tells you to expect. So if you are a software developer, you have to decide, "Okay. Do I have a cross reference file where I take these tags and they come with a default EPC that's unique to-- it should be unique across all tags." And you can say, "Okay, well, this unique EPC ties to this bib number or this athlete. And in this other one, if you know, double tag, if so good, is there other EPC ties this athlete?" So you'd have to have some kind of cross reference table in your database or whatever. We'll get off of that because there's probably not many people listening to this that are gonna do all that. So it depends on what your system is expecting. And so, I know there's some systems out there expect a cross reference file. Other systems like mine, what you'd do is you actually program your tags before race day. Now I'd do it during the slow winter months or slow summer months. I'll order a stack of, let's say, 10,000 bibs or more and I will blindly grab two tags out of my tag return bin from the previous races - grab two tags attached to the bibs - and that's my first process. It's take two tags attached to the bibs. I don't care what they're program to. I just get my bibs ready. And then once I get all my bibs or tags on, then I go through the bibs again, I drop them on top of an antenna, and I've got my antenna facing straight up, so it's kind of like a little table. So I just drop it on there and I'll say, "Alright, you're going to be bib number one, for example." And I just hit the "enter" key twice because this little screen where you can type in the bib number-- and then when I hit it twice, it progresses both tags to one. And it also auto increments to the next number. So I can say, "All right, well, now it goes to two. So I'll grab two, slap it on, enter key, enter key. Grab three, enter key, enter key." And it's a pretty quick process. So that's the two trains of thought is your EPC, which is the data that the tag is returning is going to return the bib number. And the benefit with that is that I can program and prepare tens of thousands of bibs before I can even time my first race. And so let's say that, Panos calls me up and says, "Oh, man. In two days, I've got my race and my race timer just backed out. I've got 3,000 people. Can you come do it?" I just grabbed this - it didn't matter - this stack of bibs. And I show up in time to your race. And so when I pull people in either from some online registration platform, whatever, I tell my software, "Okay, start with bib number X that I'm going to use, and go up from there." And, of course, the day before the race or that morning of, I'd pass out the bib numbers when people show up. So I hope that hope that paints a clear picture on the options. 

Inexpensive backup systems

Panos  52:05  
Sure. Last thing I want to talk about is backups. So you mentioned that earlier a little bit. It's super important topic because let's remember what we're talking about here. We're talking about building something that records finish times. There's nothing more precious to a participant in a race than having a finish time and nothing that can harm your race more than getting people through the finish line that have paid decent money to take part in it without recording a finish time. That's going to hurt your race's reputation quite a lot. Whatever system, whether it's a timing system, or a rocket taking off into the moon fail sometimes. So what would be your best choices of backup for a system like the one we're discussing here?

Brian  52:56  
Yeah. You're right. That's extremely important. When I hear that people are 100% reliant on their reader and they don't have any backup system, it just melts me inside. And so you've got to have a backup system. And I've been at races, by the way, where they didn't. It's just, one hometown over from that is I was at this race and they had some problems during the race. Before the race is over, they packed up and left. No results. They just packed up and left. I guess they knew their goose was cooked and they just left. And I just like, "Oh my gosh." And so yeah, you'd have to have a backup system. Can you imagine, I mean, you just turn into a ghost, if you relied on your reader only or your laptop only and it just shut down, and you're just totally messed up. So, yeah. So here's what I recommend, minimum backups, number one, I think everybody should, and most people don't, but I think they should, because they're so inexpensive. Buy an inexpensive camcorder, and a good grief. Just buy a camcorder, throw it on a tripod. It's not connected to anything. You can buy camcorders really cheap online. You just have to remember - and this is the hardest part, the hardest part is remembering - to hit record and turning on. Hit record before the first finish comes in. Usually the first finisher goes by and I'm like, "Oh wait, I gotta turn my camera on." So anyways, buy a camcorder, set it up, record the whole finish line. That's kind of your ultimate worst case scenario backup. But it's more than a backup. RunSignup and I know RaceEntry does this and probably other platforms. And of course, YouTube is free. When the race is over, upload it to YouTube - free to do. If you've got a results platform that handles linking the results to a YouTube video, then use a timer. Not only do you have a decent backup system, that's a worst case scenario, but you look great, right? You can provide results that have a video, like, jump straight to the finish. Hey, you're gonna get hired again. So buy a camcorder. So we got the camcorder. Yeah, that's something I feel like everybody should have. My manual timing system backup is a second laptop and I let that laptop be run by volunteers. Because, God forbid I have to rely on it completely. Let's say that worst case scenario, hopefully, the worst case scenario is that Windows 10 does an update and restarts my chip timing computer in the middle of the race, assuming it's back up in a couple minutes, I'm not going to totally throw that system away. I'm going to get it back up, get the system going, and I've only got two minutes to fill the gap, right? And so you have to have some backup system. And so what I do is I set up another laptop. It's got a copy of the race. It's got everything there. And I have someone that's simply pressing the spacebar, or this little USB plunger that can use. And all this is doing is capturing the time for every finisher, doesn't matter what race you're in. If someone crosses that line, you hit the button. That's it. And then at the end of the finish line, I have someone writing bib numbers in order. And so if it's a large race, I don't want that person looking up and looking down, I have someone standing next to them calling numbers out, "32, 18, 104," whatever. And so, between those two systems, I can always fill any holes or fill any gaps or figure out, "Okay, hey, what was that number?" And at a worst case scenario, I could do results with that if I absolutely had to. But that's assuming some catastrophic failure. But yeah, we've had times, of course, where I've had to refer to that, like, "Hey, there's a couple of people here where it happened. Maybe they didn't wear the tags." But, yeah. That's what I do for a backup system. I've tried setting up for some of our biggest races, a totally separate system, either right before the finish line, or right after. And what I've found so far is that if you set it up before, when are people gonna want to quit the race? A little early. They're going to cross the first mat and think they're done. Right? And so if you set it up after, I don't know, it hasn't-- I haven't seen any benefit with setting up a whole separate system. I've been able to do everything I need with just a manual backup system. 

Panos  56:31  
Yeah. And I guess, even though the probability of both timing systems failing is fairly remote, when you have two timing systems, particularly, two timing systems that rely on the same tag, they may both fail. So I guess with a proper backup, it's probably wise to go with a kind of backup that is completely independent, almost, of your main system. Right?

Brian  56:59  
Yeah. The only common variable here is the software, of course. Right? And now, some people say, "Well, maybe I should use this other software, this other system, like those old printing stopwatches, if you remember those back in the day". That's where I think, okay, we may be going too far separate. Right? Because doing results with something totally separate where you don't have any of the participants information in there, that would be really rough. And so I think that, yeah, having two totally separate systems, one manual, one chip is good. And I think that they both should be that, if you're using a different software, whatever, both the same software because, then, it's maybe really easy to sync the data back and forth. You can easily say, "Okay, maybe you had 25 people register that day." Well, in the other laptop, I just hit one button. Boom! Sync and they're all in there if they're using RunSignup or RaceEntry or Race Roster or whatever. Worst case, they're not using any of those, and I'll just copy a database over. But yeah, so you want to have a manual system, and then a chip system, and then on top of that, a camcorder, and on top of that - I don't know if other systems do this, my system will automatically take a picture of every finisher and stuff like that. So I've got photos, I've got video, I've got manual, and I've got chip timing.

Further resources for building your RFID timing system

Panos  58:06  
Right. Okay, great. I think we've covered most of the ground that I wanted us to cover in terms of putting the system together, using it, operating it, backups, all of that stuff. You've done this thing and your customers have done this thing thousands of times. Any last words of wisdom for people who are looking to jump into this world of building their own system and doing their own timing?

Brian  58:36  
Well, I think you brought up a good resource earlier, the Race Timing Hub. There's, of course, timers talk, that can be a hit or miss because I think there's a lot of very vocal people that are like salesmen for their systems, but the Race Timing Hub seems to be more, I don't know, it's a condor crowd that more likely to help, I think, not more likely to try sell you something. The way I look at it, I'm just a software guy. So if you say, "Hey, have you thought about using this? Have you tried that? I've probably tried it and I can tell you, "Here's my experience, or I wouldn't recommend this hardware, or whatever." So, yeah. Glean from the wisdom of people that have been down the road. But yeah, I guess that's the number one advice.

Panos  59:13  
Indeed. And that's actually what I also tell race director starting out in this. We have a extensive content on how to do a million things and the number one thing that's at the top of all of that is get talking to someone who's done this before and sort of like learn from them. I think it's the most invaluable resource you can have in this business. So you mentioned and I know you are very kindly offering advice to people online on all kinds of things. Where can people find you? Where can they find Agee Race Timing? Websites? Emails? Tell us about it.

Brian  59:48  
Yeah. So I guess, step number one would be the website, AgeeRaceTiming.com. So you'll see on there that if you're looking for hardware and what was required and whatever else, my websites is divided into two sections. You want the left section, which is timing systems. If you click in there, there's a couple of packages I put together. We don't have a box that says, "Here's this package." What we do is we say, "Look, if you're wanting to build your own system, here's everything that's needed." So there you can see a list and you can also see how much each of those items will be from us. So if you can find one of the components is cheaper, or if you have a question about, "Well, I found this antenna on eBay, will this work?" Send it to me. I'll say yea or nay. That's one resource. Number two, of course, my email is on the website and all that stuff. One thing is, I guess I'll say is that, I don't know how many other systems do this, but I've got a 100% open users forum. Now, if you want to post on there, you have to actually join or request to join because I don't want people trying to sell life insurance or whatever on there. But you can jump on the user forum and the forum is great because, again, it's years and years of people saying, "Hey, here's what's work." I did this type of race. And so if you're trying to time some kind of race that's unique, you'll find all kinds of great pictures and videos and tips and stuff from other users have done what you're trying to do, or tried hardware that you're considering trying. And you'll find some stories on there, like, "Hey, I'm having bad results and I finally figured out what it was." Little tips, I'll give you one little nugget just for fun. So let's say you laminate a tag, and you decide what would be cool if if I place a paper label over it to show my company name or logo on it. Well, if you're attending cross-country races,  what's going to happen that paper label? It's going to get a little wet. You're gonna have bad read rates. And so really great wisdom out there you can learn from other people's mistakes and other people's successes. Yeah, that's, I guess, the two main resources - my website, and a user's group and, then, the race timing hub, and people like you out there putting good information out there.

Panos  1:01:32  
Perfect. And you also work with - I think your hardware, you work with - Atlas RFID Store, right?

Brian  1:01:39  
Yeah. So yeah, Atlas and I have a great relationship. A lot of products that we supply, if you were to buy a package system from us, some of that stuff comes from Atlas. And so I've really enjoyed work with him over the years. They can be trusted to provide good tags and everything else. So yeah, they're a good company.

Panos  1:01:53  
Yeah, so do we. And we have an offer from Atlas RFID store - really great guys. They know their stuff. They know race timing, and you could get a listen of that at the end of the episode. So Brian, thank you very, very much for your time and sharing all these great tips with us today. People know where to find you, hoping to be able to speak to you soon. Thank you very much again for your time, and thanks to everyone listening in, and we'll see everyone on the next episode.

Panos  1:02:30  
I hope you enjoyed this episode on building an RFID timing system with Agee Race Timing owner, Brian Agee.

You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com, where you'll also find a 5% discount from Atlas RFID Store for all your RFID timing equipment needs and a 15% discount from Brian on his full-feature timing software, that you can use with both your DIY and proprietary timing system.

If you are building and operating your own system, Race Timing Hub is our Facebook group dedicated just to race timing and building race timing systems, so come join that and people, including Brian, will be glad to help you out with any questions you may have.

If you enjoyed this episode, please don't forget to subscribe or leave a review on your favorite player and, also, check out the podcast back-catalogue for more great content like this.

Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.

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