Humans are social animals. We love to mingle at meetings and trade shows, to network and share ideas.

But the tools used to facilitate that networking have left something to be desired — until now. The standard name badge is frequently forgotten, poorly printed, or worn in a way that can't be read. People forget, or run out of, business cards. A number of technology developments that are now available are taking the lowly name badge to a whole new level.

SmartBadge
www.smartbadge.com

Every registration badge has a large, unique “watermark” number visible from a distance. When you pick up your badge, you will be given a mini-PDA (personal digital assistant) about the size of a credit card. The mini-PDA contains registration contact information for as many as 1,000 attendees.

If you see someone from a distance and want to know their name, you simply enter his or her badge number into your mini-PDA and up will pop the basic badge information (name, company, city/state). If you wish to exchange additional information with someone, he or she can give you an access key number: five or six digits that will unlock additional contact information on your mini-PDA. Connect the PDA device to your computer and download all the contact information into your contact database.

These simple PDAs are inexpensive (about $15 to $20 each), and the attendees can take them home. The PDAs have room on the back for corporate advertising that can offset the purchase costs.

SpotMe
www.smartbadge.com

When you register, your picture is taken with a digital camera and you're given a small, wireless device. Using radio-frequency detection, this device determines your location and the relative location of people nearby. Your PDA screen provides the names of the people around you, grouped in two categories: those within 10 feet and those from 10 to 30 feet away. Highlighting and clicking on a name will show that person's picture and contact information. Other features included are wireless e-mail, session agenda, and audience voting and polling.

Tubula Rasa
www.t-rasa.com

This system also uses radio-frequency detection, and consists of very small chips, about the size of a pinhead. Each chip has a 48-bit unique identifier allowing for a virtually unlimited number of unique ID tags. These chips can be read by detection receivers from a five-foot range. And they are cheap — only about 5 cents each.

By placing these tags in badges and setting up sensing units at entrances, meeting planners can track noninvasively who is attending sessions or visiting the exhibit hall, and for how long.

If a show manager or exhibitor wants to be notified any time a designated VIP attendee approaches within five feet, a sensing unit linked to a wireless Pocket PC device can beep an alert. The VIP's information will also appear on the screen for quick reference.




Corbin Ball, CMP, is a speaker, consultant, and writer focusing on events and meeting technology. With 20 years' experience running international citywide technology meetings, he helps clients worldwide use technology to save time and improve productivity. Contact him at his Web site, www.corbinball.com.

Take Out

The new generation of name badges includes —

SmartBadge: With a mini-PDA that contains registration contact information for up to 1,000 attendees, you can call up another attendee's name and info by simply entering his or her badge number.

SpotMe: A wireless device using radio-frequency detection determines your location and the relative location of people around you.

Tubula Rasa: Exhibitors can use this system to provide contactless lead retrieval information from anyone entering a booth.