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Zoo tracks children with Bluetooth tags

Using Bluetooth technology, Denmark's Aalborg Zoo is setting up a system that lets parents use their cell phones to keep tabs on their children's whereabouts.

Denmark's Aalborg Zoo is setting up a system that lets parents use their cell phones to keep tabs on their children's whereabouts.

BodyTags, developed by tracking specialists BlueTags, are small Bluetooth pods that clip to a child's clothing. Base stations scattered around a site detect nearby tags and relay their location to a central database via wireless LAN (local area network). Parents register their cell phones with the system and can get an update on their progeny's position within 20 seconds of sending a query text message.

The zoo will deploy the system--the first of its kind--in July, with 200 tags and 50 access points covering the zoo's grounds.

"We are very excited about the possibilities that the BlueTags tracking system provides and we are proud to be the first," said Henning Julin, director of Aalborg Zoo. "I expect many of my international colleagues to receive this tracking solution for children with open arms."

Peter Lund, vice president of business development at BlueTags, said, "The system will spot when a child is near an exit from the park, and can alert the parents, the administrators and the park's security." Lund admitted that there was nothing stopping mischievous children from removing or swapping their tags, but he said "the next version will be a wristband that can't be taken off without signaling an alarm." Not only can parents relax and enjoy the attraction more with this system in place, he said, but it gives children more opportunities to freely explore at their own pace.

Other features include an optional automatic SMS sent every time a child moves from zone to zone. "Both tag and access point can be adjusted in range," Lund said. "Entrance points can be accurate down to two to three meters, but larger zones can be set and can overlap to improve precision."

Lund said pricing for the tags would be set by the location's owners, and could factor in a per-SMS charge if appropriate. "The software in the system can track up to 100,000 tags, but the current hardware is limited to around 2,000. We're also looking at other sorts of places, such as airports and hospitals," Lund said.

BlueTag expects the first deployment of the system in the United Kingdom to take place before the end of 2003.

ZDNet UK's Rupert Goodwins reported from London.