What is an Electronic Timing Chip?

Disposable electronic timing chips finally made its Philippine running debut during the Globe-Ayala Land Run for Home event by Finishline.  Although it ended up being a fancy accessory, a timing chip utilized properly does have huge advantages over manual time capturing processes.  For the said event the organizers picked the “chips” from ChampionChip, a Netherlands-based company.

The Chip

The chips that were used were disposable versions of radio-frequency identification (RFID) transponder made of waterproof glass capsules that contain a silicon chip and an energizing coil.  This coil is inactive until moved into a magnetic field generated by a send antenna in a mat (used to mark the start and finish lines of a race), thus not needing a need for a power supply like a battery.  The chip then transmits its unique identification number to a receive antenna in a mat.

ChampionChip used in Run for Home
Disposable ChampionChip used in Run for Home

In other countries one may simply buy a chip which can be used many times in different races, provided that the race uses the same standard as the chip (ChampionChip-branded chips are only compatible with ChampionChip timing systems).  For economic reasons, participants may also lease these chips for use during the race but of course this comes with the hassle of returning it afterwards.

The Mats

The mats are normally located at the start and finish lines but can also be located en route of the race.  Strategically placed, these mats may give individual runners their “lap times,” and of course prevent cheating.  These mats actually are the antennas connected to a nearby reader.  These mats “charge” the transponder which then emits its unique code.  Because each transponder must be energized before it emits its code, there can be a delay in the tags response to the mat.  The delay should be negligible and depends on the system used.

Gun Time and Net Time

Runners in races with huge attendance naturally incur delays in reaching the start time which of course affects their time.  Having a timing chip allows the exact “net time” of each runner to be calculated (by subtracting the delay) as compared with “manual” time capturing that is usually based on “gun time” (which ignores the delay incurred).  Locally, we can assume that races utilizing these chips would use “net time” but in other countries, particularly races using USA Track and Field rules, performance is based on “gun time.”

Forms and Factors

What runners have seen during the Run for Home was the traditional ChampionChip disposable transponder.  These transponders are not limited to such form factors as they may come in all sorts of shapes and forms.  It is also not limited to running.  See the chip used recently in Miami Marathon (courtesy karlo.org).


Some of the competing brands

Now that the genie is out of the bottle, we’ll all see if this technology would be adopted well in local races and if our sports regulators would set standards on its use.  While it may not be used to its potential during its debut it’s definitely a promising improvement to the local running scene.  Hopefully next time around we’d all get to see how these chips are really used.

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