Killer Kiosk Application: Just Add Kids And Water
The applications for kiosk and RF (radio frequency) technologies at water and theme parks are limitless. Here's one integrator's unique, family-friendly approach.
Parents are forever seeking better ways to keep tabs on their kids in crowded water parks. Years ago, parents simply said, "hold my hand, and don't let go." As times changed, it became acceptable to literally leash kids. Parents wandered the parks, children in tow, connected by a stretchy tether running from the parent's belt to the child's wrist. Today, an enterprising southern California company is introducing theme parks to a high-tech way to let families keep track of their kids.
The company, called SafeTzone Technologies Corp. (Laguna Hills, CA), scored a major win in the spring of 2002 when it sold its application to Dolly's Splash Country, a water park near the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, TN. Recognizing the park's commitment to safety (Splash Country lifeguards are the defending Ellis Southern Regional Lifeguard Competition champions), SafeTzone felt its child location system was a perfect match.
Touch Screens And RF Work So Families Can Play
The system is an RF Code, Inc. (Phoenix) and Texas Instuments (Dallas) RF (radio frequency) tag-based network of Touch Controls (Fallbrook, CA) touch screen kiosks that allow parents, guardians, and chaperones to track the location of children throughout the park. To illustrate, let's say Wendy decides to take her children, Jenny and Andrew, to the water park. She purchases three locators - waterproof, RF-equipped bracelets - at $3 each ($1 of which is a deposit that will be refunded when the bracelets are returned). Wendy outfits herself, Jenny, and Andrew with the locators as a park employee uses SafeTzone's RegiStation to assign an exclusive identification to her family's transponders. Now, as Wendy, Jenny, and Andrew wander the park, their locators constantly emit a radio signal to antennae which are placed strategically throughout the park. The antennae relay the signal to central processing computers at the park, which update the position of each locator.
Should Jenny and Andrew be gone longer than the hour they were allotted, for example, Wendy simply walks to the nearest SafeTzone LocationStation kiosk. There, she scans her locator, and the children's whereabouts are displayed in the form of icons, complete with names, on a digital, cartoon-style map of the park. Touching the area of the screen that displays their icons allows Wendy to zoom in on her children's specific location (e.g. in front of the cotton candy gazebo). Only members of a unique group can access one another's whereabouts, meaning Wendy, and Wendy alone, can locate her kids at a LocationStation. She then logs off the system. If she forgets to log off, the screen automatically times out after 15 seconds.
According to SafeTzone EVP Regan Kelly, there's not much to the training process for park employees. They simply need to learn how to use the RegiStation to assign unique identities to user groups. Park employees can show patrons how to use the LocationStation software in a matter of minutes. While Kelly prefers to put oversight of the system in the hands of the park's IT staff, support of the entire system can be monitored remotely from SafeTzone's offices. The system can be rebooted from SafeTzone's corporate offices in the event of a brownout or power outage, for example.
Hot Application, Little Market Penetration
Currently, Dolly's Splash Country is one of only four theme parks using SafeTzone's patented "system for real-time location of people in a fixed environment." The company's approach has been to penetrate smaller theme parks that are owned by larger operators, give the system the opportunity to prove itself, then move in on the larger entities. "Pursuing the smaller parks gives us the opportunity to test the solution and make improvements based on the specific environment," says Kelly. "It creates a showcase that allows decision makers to see that it works every time and that park patrons like it."
Once a park has decided to sign on with the company, it has the option to lease or buy the equipment. But, the revenue opportunity for SafeTzone Technologies has only just begun. The integrator gets a portion of the revenue generated by the solution's usage. Because it has a stake in the system's acceptance, SafeTzone offers marketing support to theme parks. "We market to groups a lot, because it's a particularly useful application for field trips, youth groups, and so on," says Kelly. Season pass packages are also a heavily promoted revenue generator for both park and integrator. When group and season pass sales are high, the system can achieve payback within a year. Typically, Kelly says a park sees a full return between one and two years after implementation.
All This And Wireless Payment, Too
The next step for SafeTzone is to maximize the functionality of the bracelet by implementing a cashless payment system at the parks that use the SafeTzone system. Because the locator watch is a personal identifier, the payment software SafeTzone is working on will allow patrons to use the bracelet to purchase items in the park - from food to souvenirs - like an electronic credit card. Instead of receiving a bill, however, patrons will be able to pay up front and assign a declining balance to each individual's bracelet. "We'll have this software ready in-house in the spring of 2003," says Kelly.
The company hasn't yet actively sought resellers for its solution, but according to Kelly, there has been much unsolicited interest, and SafeTzone will inevitably be signing resellers.