Sand, sun and RFID?: The high-tech, networked beach is coming soon

Ocean City, New Jersey is a nice, family-oriented beach that will apparently  soon be the high-tech model for seashore lovers and now perhaps geeks everywhere.  The city has on its plate a $3 million variety of public services on tap featuring Internet access and radio-frequency identification chips (RFID) and Wi-Fi wireless technology.   A wireless network will let Ocean City expand economic development and control the cost of local services. Wireless allows the City to save on cell phone usage, T-1 lines, and it adds efficiency. By maximizing connectivity, there are a variety of ways to enhance education, library services, and emergency management services, city executives say on their Website.  The provider of the Ocean City wireless network has not been determined yet and the City meets this week to possibly select a service provider but  it  is on track to have wireless coverage by early 2008, according to the City’s Website. The wireless net would be free to resident and $6 a day for tourists.  But that’s not all.  The city is looking to replace its ubiquitous but mostly annoying beach tags – which indicate you paid to get on the beach $5 per day, $10 for a week, or $20 for the whole  summer – with wristbands that contain an RFID chip.  That way there’s be no more hassling with beach tag checkers as they can use handheld devices to see who has a tag and who doesn’t.  Last year, Ocean City spent more than $282,000 to pay 170 badge checkers and with the new RFID wristband it will certainly reduce that number.  From an Asbury Park Press report: …people wouldn't even think about trying to sneak onto the beach without paying: Five to 10% of people going to the beach either try to sneak on without paying, or lie offer excuses including that their badge is on a T-shirt on a beach chair near the water. (Ed aside: I know I did when I lived near the area) Will McKinley, a badge checker stationed on boardwalk at the 19th Street beach, said the new system would make his job easier. "It will take the hassle out of going up to people and asking to see their badges," he said. "They're more OK with it up here. On the beach, they don't like to be hassled." Yet another cool feature of the high-tech beach will be the ability to track beachgoers – an application that is being touted by parents.  A mother going to the beach with three small children, for instance, could have her bracelet linked to those of her children. If one of them passes an electronic sensor at the entrance or exit to the boardwalk without the right adult, a text message would instantly be sent to her cell phone, the Asbury Press says.  The RFID network would also let city officials know how many people are on the beach at a particular time and let them adjust police and emergency units where they might be needed most.  And even the trash cans on this beach would be high-tech. Special solar-powered units would have sensors that, when the container is three-quarters full, would automatically send an e-mail to the public works department asking a worker to come empty them, according to the Asbury Park Press.  Is it all too Big brotherish? Some think so. Most seem positive.  Nearly 20 coastal municipalities have wireless Internet systems, mostly in California and Florida, according to the Web site MuniWireless.com. Published reports say the network could net the city $12 million in five years or so.    

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