Using radio frequency identification tags to track school kids

Taking attendance. Some schools are testing out RFID tags as a way to keep track of kids and bring in extra money.

We’ve got a couple of peeks at some new tech today. No, not the iPhone 5 -- you're going to have to wait a few more days on that one. This is gee-whiz, maybe-creepy tech, that’s right around the corner.

We start in Texas, where schools are testing out radio frequency ID, or RFID tags, that allow easy identification and tracking of students. David Kravets is a staff writer for Wired. He says schools are using this tech to try to get more money from the government, which pays schools’ by the number of students that show up.

"The old school method was if you weren’t in your chair they had no way of knowing you were on campus, right? But now, with these RFID tags, which they also use to track cattle, now they know you’re there," Kravets said. "And they can legally charge the state for you being there, plain and simple."

With the tags, a school could count a kid even she’s dawdling on the way to class. Kravets says quick web search finds a whole lot of companies looking to get in on the kid-tracking business.

"It’s not a big business yet, but I believe that with these companies hocking these wares, and hocking it for less safety reasons and more financial reasons, it could take off," he added.

As you might guess, schools putting RFID tags on kids does not go over well with privacy experts. Marc Rotenburg heads the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

"It’s controversial because it will reveal the child’s name and also their location," Rotenburg said. "It’s a little bit like putting a beacon on top of someone saying this is my name and this is where I am. And I think for a lot of families that may not be too comforting."

Rotenburg says you’ve gotta ask whether the benefits here outweigh the risks?

"Particularly for young children," he said. "It’s a good idea to ask them to think about when they are disclosing their personal information."

There’s another reason the tags might not be such a brilliant solution. They open up the potential to some Ferris Bueller-style extracurricular activities: You could just slip your tag to your friend and go play hooky out back.

"Yes indeed," Rotenburg confirmed. "As with all technological solutions there are always work-arounds and I think one of the things clever kids will figure out is they can always give their tag to a friend and have them both sitting in class while one is out at the movies."


And now one more story from the files of our futuristic, kind of disturbing, present. This one we start on the race track where a four-footed robot can be found running faster than Usain Bolt.

The four-footed Cheetah robot, created by Boston Dynamics with help from the military’s DARPA program, clocked 28.3 miles per hour in the lab topping Usain Bolt’s 27.78 miles per hour best.

They are planning to test an unleashed version, outdoors, next year. Just imagine a metal, animal like thing racing toward you. (Maybe we do want the radio frequency id tags for these guys, just in case.)

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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