April 15-18, 2009
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Cheap, Accurate RFID Tracking of Museum Visitors for Personalized Content Delivery

Timothy Baldwin and Lejoe Thomas Kuriakose, University of Melbourne, Australia


In this project, we explored the deployment of RFID-based technologies to observe visitors’ behaviour in a museum to record what exhibits they visit and when. This data has tremendous potential to enhance museum visits through personalizing information via dynamic interfaces, or profiling the visitor to make recommendations for future activity inside or outside the museum. The outcomes of the project demonstrate the viability of (passive) RFID technologies for museum visitor tracking and provide empirical validation of the near-human tracking accuracy of the system in two different environments.

Keywords: tracking, RFID, exhibit engagement, personalized content delivery, visitor location, evaluation

1. Introduction

Automatically tracking the location of objects has been an area of interest for several years in various fields. While GPS has revolutionized outdoor location-based services, there is no de facto standard for high-precision indoor localization. Indoor position-based systems have been slow to take off for a number of reasons, including high cost, complexity, administrative difficulties and limited accuracy. GPS-like technologies for indoor-based location tracking still lack positioning accuracy, so alternative cost-effective location-based services must be considered. Obvious candidates in terms of the availability and maturity of the underlying technology are RFID, Bluetooth and Wireless LAN (Hightower and Borriello, 2001).

Our study is focused on tracking the location of visitors in a museum environment. We explore the deployment of passive RFID-based technologies for this purpose, primarily because of the affordability of passive RF tags and readers. Our underlying motivation in tracking visitors is to use the information as a basis for learning about patterns of exhibit/gallery interaction, and ultimately to provide personalized information to visitors (Bohnert et al., 2008a, Bohnert et al., 2008b). Much of the work on RFID-based tracking in museum environments has relied on the visitor physically swiping an RFID tag at predetermined locations in the museum space (see Section 4). This has obvious disadvantages in terms of unobtrusiveness (the physical act of swiping detracts from the museum experience) and reliability of the data (there’s no guarantee the visitor will continue to swipe the tag throughout the museum visit). Our approach makes use of the same RFID technology, but assesses the feasibility of tracking unobtrusively, without any action on the part of the visitor. The system described in this paper detects and records a set of triples of tag ID, reader ID and timestamp, representing that a given visitor was at a particular reader at the indicated time; the position can be inferred from the predetermined location of each RFID.

This study is a part of the Kubadji project (, a research collaboration involving the University of Melbourne, Monash University and Melbourne Museum. The goal of the project is to develop technologies to dynamically deliver personalized information to visitors in diverse, information rich, physical environments, focusing on museums. The contribution of this research is to explore the viability of unobtrusive tracking technologies to support the physical deployment of the developed technologies in a physical space. As part of this, we propose a number of evaluation methodologies to encourage greater cross-comparison of tracking technologies.

The remainder of this paper is structured as follows. First, we survey location-sensing techniques for indoor-based location tracking and their basic technological basis. We then survey relevant work on RFID-based tracking in museums, before presenting the technical details of our approach, along with the system architecture and details. Finally, we detail a tracking experiment where we compare the proposed method with human tracker performance in a physical tracking setting, and discuss and analyze the results.

2. Location Sensing Technologies

There exist three basic techniques for location sensing: triangulation, scene analysis, and proximity. In this section, we detail the proximity technique as it is the underlying principle behind RFID-based systems.

2.1. Proximity

Proximity-based location-sensing techniques work by determining how close an object is to a known location. The object’s presence is detected in a given field of range. The three general approaches to sensing proximity are:

  • Detecting physical contact: this is the most basic form of proximity sensing, and relies on physical contact between an object and a sensor; examples include touch sensors, pressure sensors and capacitive field detectors.
  • Monitoring wireless access points: these monitor a mobile device when it is within the range of wireless access point.
  • Observing electronic IDs: scanning devices detect electronic IDs such as electronic card logs or identification tags (e.g. RFID tags).

In each case, the position of the mobile object can be inferred from the predetermined location of the sensing device.

2.2. Location-sensing system properties

For any location-sensing system, the following properties must be considered.

2.2.1. Accuracy

To determine the accuracy of a location sensing system, the error distribution incurred when locating objects must be assessed, along with relevant dependencies such as the density of infrastructural elements. For our purposes, we are interested in gauging whether we are able to achieve “sufficient” levels of accuracy with the proposed location sensing technology, relative to gold-standard human tracking. Separately, we are engaged in research to ascertain the impact of loss of tracking accuracy on services relevant to the aims of the Kubadji project,;namely, personalized content delivery and recommendation.

2.2.2. Scalability

The scalability of a location-sensing system is determined relative to its coverage per unit of infrastructure, and the number of objects the system can locate per unit of infrastructure over a given time interval. Time is an important factor due to the limited bandwidth available in sensing objects. RFID-based technologies can tolerate a maximum number of communications before the channel becomes congested. Beyond this point, there is either an increase in locational latency or a loss in accuracy due to the system calculating an object’s position less frequently.

Systems can often expand scalability by increasing the number of infrastructure components. Some of the hurdles to scalability are infrastructure cost and middleware complexity.

2.2.3. Recognition

Recognition is the ability to automatically identify located objects, e.g. to enable a specific action based on its ID. For example, an airport luggage handling mechanism needs to route luggage to the correct flight or baggage claim carousel.

Recognition can be achieved by assigning unique names or GUIDs to objects. In the case of RFID, RF tags are equipped with a unique tag identifier. Once an object has been identified by its GUID, the infrastructure can access a centralized database to look up the name, type or other semantic information about the object.

2.2.4. Cost

Cost can be assessed in several ways:

1.     Time, including factors such as installation overhead and system administration needs.

2.     Space, including the amount of installed infrastructure and the hardware’s size and form factor.

3.     Capital, including factors such as the price per mobile unit or infrastructure elements and the salary of support personnel.

3. Related work

This section provides a brief summary of related work in tracking objects of interest.

3.1. Detecting visitor movement by differential air pressure sensing

Pantel et al. (2008) described an approach that detects gross movement and room transitions by sensing differential air pressure from a single point in a building. It utilizes existing central heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. The building or space as a whole forms a closed circuit for air circulation, and HVAC provides a centralized airflow source and therefore a central point for monitoring.

Variation in airflow in a monitored space caused by human movement, particularly obstruction of doorways, results in static pressure changes in the HVAC air handler unit. The proposed system detects this type of pressure variation via sensors mounted on the air filter and calculates exactly where exactly certain movements are occurring in the monitored space. In experiments by the authors, the system was shown to be able to classify unique transition events with up to 75-85% accuracy.

Although it makes use of a central monitoring point to classify human movement, such an approach cannot be utilized in a museum environment because the spaces are often large and open plan, complicating the detection of human movement. In addition, museums are usually not closed spaces (visitors are constantly entering and exiting the museum), it is questionable whether the system would scale to large volumes of visitor traffic, and there is no facility to identify which individual is associated with a given movement.

3.2. WLAN-based tracking and information management

Savidis et al. (2008) proposed the combination of different location-aware systems to locate an object, based on both explicit 2D positioning technologies such as WLAN (e.g. the Ekahau system: and implicit 2D positioning from sensory modules such as RFID (which provides binary classification of whether an object is located within a given field) and infrared (which provides field-based or linear “tripwire” information). The idea is to utilize any available medium to extract position information regarding an object of interest and use software to resolve the ambiguities. Notable aspects of the proposed system are spatial content editing with mixed mode administration, system-initiated information based on location and user triggered data exploration - an efficient technique for lending out devices with minimal delay - and integrated usage of various location-sensing technologies such as WLAN, GPS and infrared beacons.

3.3. Recognition of viewing activity using electrooculography

Bulling et al. (2008) proposed a method for detecting eye movements of people using wearable electrooculography. The relevance of eye movements to this research is that we ideally wish to know not where visitors are physically located, but what is occupying their attention, for which purposes we need to know what they are looking at. See Section 6.3 for further discussion of this point.

The approach of Bulling et al. can be used in combination with RFID to precisely determine what exactly visitors are looking at and where they are physically positioned. RFID only provides their physical positioning, of course, and if two exhibits are close to each other, the RFID approach cannot easily pinpoint which they are nearest to. Additionally, it is entirely possible that they are located next to one exhibit but looking at a second exhibit.

The proposed method uses electrooculography as a measurement technique for recognition of user activity and attention. It consists of sensors worn on the body and thus can be implemented as a wearable system. In terms of intrusiveness and cost, however, this method has limited applicability in the museum domain.

4. RFID Technology in Museums

This section describes how RFID-based technology has been deployed in museums around the world.

eXspot is a customized RFID application which was prototyped in the Exploratorium in San Francisco, USA (Hsi and Fait, 2005). The system consists of an RFID reader package mounted on museum exhibits along with a wireless network connecting these readers to dynamically generated Web pages. The visitors each carry an RF tag in the form of a card or necklace, based on which eXspot tracks which exhibits they visited. The exhibit information is later available on a personalized Web page which each visitor can access via the Internet. The eXspot RFID readers also make it possible for visitors to trigger digital cameras to take their pictures. eXpot makes all this possible by having the reader constantly query its field for the presence of RF tags. When a visitor carrying an RF tag approaches the vicinity of a reader, the tag is read and its ID is sent over mote radio to a network base station. Similar to our system, a database is used to stored triples of time, exhibit ID, and tag ID.

Also at the Exploratorium, Fleck et al. (2002) had visitors swipe RFID cards to “bookmark” features of the museum to follow up on post-visit.

The Museum of Natural History in Aarhus, Denmark made use of RFID technology to provide a visitor learning and interaction tool called TaggedX. In an interactive exhibition called “Flying”, 50 stuffed bird exhibits were fitted with RFID chips. Visitors carried PDAs fitted with RFID readers which actively scanned for RF-tagged exhibits. On detecting an exhibit, the PDA presented the visitor with quizzes, audio and video relevant to that exhibit.

The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, USA implemented RFID technologies in one of its exhibitions after experimenting with barcode readers and paper tags. Visitors were given wristbands embedded with RFIDs that activate exhibits and trigger interaction with displays. Currently, they issue RFID-embedded tickets that allow users to bookmark information in interactive kiosks for post-visit access.

In perhaps the most closely-related research in the museum domain, Kanda et al. (2007) implemented an active RFID-based system to allow visitors to the Osaka Science Museum in Osaka, Japan to interact with robot exhibits. They separately used the collected data to estimate visitor trajectories and analyze visiting patterns. Compared to this research, active RFID has the advantage of tags regularly emitting a signal, allowing for more fine-grained analysis of visitor movements. Its primary disadvantage is cost, with a single unit costing thousands of dollars. It is thus not scalable to large numbers of visitors.

In summary, the primary use of RFID technologies in museums has been to support personalized in situ visitor interaction or to record which exhibits a visitor viewed, for use in post-visit content delivery. Our research differs in that we use RFID technologies explicitly for visitor tracking purposes, and evaluate the accuracy of our proposed method relative to human trackers.

5. Overview of Our Approach

This research focuses on the utilization of RFID to unobtrusively track museum visitors. Our immediate interests in the tracking data are to:

  1. predict a visitor’s future pathway in the museum,
  2. recommend exhibits of potential interest to the visitor, and
  3. personalize content delivered to those visitors (Bohnert et al., 2008a, Berkovsky et al., 2008).

There are no doubt other applications for the data, however, and the proposed system is compatible with the tracking functionalities of eXspot and the Tech Museum of Innovation, e.g. In essence, our interest is in developing a low-cost, scalable system which involves minimal instrumentation of the museum visitor and no explicit action on part of the visitor.

In the interests of determining the true accuracy of our tracking system, we put particular focus on comparing the performance of our system with that of human trackers in museum-like environments, based on two exhibit engagement “modalities”: simple exhibit proximity, and visitor gaze. To this end, we propose a series of evaluation metrics for evaluating tracking accuracy.

Below, we first outline the system architecture of the RFID-based tracking system, and then describe the tracking software used by the human trackers.

5.1. System architecture and implementation

This section describes the system architecture and implementation of our RFID-based system. The system architecture consists of a set of RFID readers in known, fixed locations, and a central server monitoring the readers and logging visitor activity. When a tag is in the vicinity of a reader, the server records the timestamp, reader ID, and tag ID of the tag. An overview of the architecture is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Fig 1: Architecture of our tracking system (the dotted rectangles represent the range of each RFID reader; the black dot in Area2 represents an RF tag)

The server runs services such as the RFID location tracker and a tool for storing and visualizing visitor tracks. The RFID location tracker is implemented in .NET using C# and makes use of Skyetek protocol Version 3 (STPV3) to communicate with the Skyetek RFID readers. It performs the function of detecting and reading tags in the vicinity of each reader. It does this via Skyetek APIs for the .NET (C#) platform. Each reader is located in a fixed location. When a tag is detected, the tag ID, reader ID, and timestamp are stored in the tracker database, which also contains exhibit details. The database used is Microsoft SQL Server 2005. The tags used are passive RF tags, which have the advantage of being cheap and not requiring battery power to function, but the disadvantage of needing to be in very close proximity to an RFID reader in order to be detected. To trace the location of a particular tag which is associated with a visitor, we developed Location Matrix View, also in the .NET platform. This provides a location matrix of a given tag, from which it is possible to infer the sequence of exhibits visited, the time spent at each exhibit, and so on. Location Matrix View also provides a way to extract a location matrix in the form of an Excel file.

The RFID readers used in this research are SkyeModule M9 by Skyetek, a multiprotocol UHF (862-955 Mhz) RFID reader platform. It is possible to adjust the RF power output of the readers from the server, which determines the range of the reader.

In our implementation, we connected the readers to the server via a USB interface. For a large-scale deployment this would obviously not scale well. It would be possible to overcome this restriction by connecting multiple RFID readers to a multiplexor, which could in turn be connected by any one of the host interfaces on the server.

Prior to commencement of live tracking, we implemented the following optimizations. First, we preconfigured the Skyeware software to recognize only ISO18000-6B RF tags, as this was the only tag type used in experiments. This improves performance because the reader is not burdened with auto-detecting the tag type, and is a valid assumption in a museum environment, where we have control over what types of tags we make available to visitors. Second, we set the RF output power of the three SkyModule M9 RFID readers to 27dBm to attain the maximum range of 1m. Third, we used antennas with linear polarization, which has the advantage of providing good range,but at the expense of tags needing to be at a specific orientation to the antenna. Finally, we placed 5 separate tags vertically in a single clear plastic badge holder, which visitors wore around their neck. The reason for using multiple tags was to increase the probability of tag detection; by using a neck-worn badge holder, we were able to ensure that the tags were vertically aligned and avoid tag rotation.

5.2. Software for manual tracking

The human trackers used the GeckoTracker software to manually track visitors to two mini-galleries (Bohnert and Zukerman, 2009). GeckoTracker is a cross-platform Java-based client which renders a map of a physical space, with exhibits realized as clickable regions. The human tracker tracks a single visitor at a time, and logs each exhibit ‘interaction’ by clicking on the corresponding region at the start of the interaction, and clicking that region again on completion of the interaction. Similar to the RFID-based tracking software, GeckoTracker generates a series of 4-tuples representing the visitor ID, exhibit ID, timestamp, and click event (on or off).

The clickable map is rendered from an SVG (scalable vector graphics) representation of the space, including region-based representation of each exhibit. We generated the SVG images in Inkscape.

GeckoTracker was run on a Linux-based laptop PC and a Windows-based tablet PC.

Figure 2

Fig 2: A screenshot of the GeckoTracker interface, with exhibits highlighted

Figure 2 is a screenshot of the GeckoTracker interface for Gallery 1 (see Section 6), with the three exhibits highlighted.

6. Experiments

In this section, we present our tracking experiments, in which we compare the accuracy of the proposed RFID-based tracking system with two human trackers, each using the GeckoTracker software.

6.1. Tracking setup

The experiments were carried out in two mini-galleries, set up in two independent spaces. We accepted one visitor at a time into a given mini-gallery, and had the system and each of the human trackers independently track their movements, generating three independent tracks per visitor, which formed the basis of our evaluation. Additionally, we explored two different modalities for exhibit engagement: (1) physical proximity, based on the assumption that proximity to an exhibit equates with interest in it; and (2) visitor gaze, where a visitor is considered to engage with an exhibit for the length of time they maintain eye contact with it. The two human trackers were asked to alternate between these two tracking modalities between one visitor and the next, ensuring that a given modality was used as the basis for tracking throughout a given visit, and also that the two human trackers based their track on the same modality for a given visitor. Physical proximity-based tracking is intended to mirror the operation of the RFID-based tracker, and designed to directly measure the accuracy of the automatic tracker based on its native modality. Visitor gaze-based tracking, on the other hand, is intended to be a more faithful representation of the true interest of the visitor, and is the actual procedure used by Melbourne Museum when manually assessing exhibit engagement (e.g. in newly-opened galleries). Clearly, the RFID-based tracker is unable to return direct readings for the gaze-based modality. Intuitively, therefore, we would expect the human trackers to have higher agreement with the RFID-based tracker for the physical proximity modality than the visitor gaze modality. The question we are asking in empirically evaluating the RFID-based tracker based on the two separate modalities is what the relative difference is for the two models of visitor engagement with a given exhibit, or conversely, whether simple physical proximity is an adequate model of true exhibit interest.

Figure 3-1Figure 3-2

(a) Gallery 1 map   (b) Gallery 2 map

Fig 3: Maps of the two mini-galleries used in our tracking experiments
(coloured regions indicate exhibit locations)

We conducted our experiments across two mini-galleries: Gallery 1 and Gallery 2. Each mini-gallery contained (the same) three exhibits, named Exhibit 1, Exhibit 2 and Exhibit 3, as detailed in Figure 3. The exhibits were prepared with the intention of mimicking a real museum environment, and contained information on the three heterogeneous themes of Godzilla monsters, vegetables and joinery, respectively, in the form of a printed set of PowerPoint-style slides in each case. The printed slides were mounted on a self-standing poster board in the same layout across the two mini-galleries. An RFID reader with single dedicated antenna was mounted at the centre of each of the exhibits. The reason we prepared only three exhibits was a purely logistical one: we had access to the hardware for only three readers of the type described above.

Visitors (all graduate students in the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering at the University of Melbourne, not directly associated with this research) were invited to visit one of the mini-galleries (only one visit was recorded per visitor). The only instructions they were given were that they were to act as they would in visiting a gallery in a museum, including being given the option of carrying a camera with them to take pictures. They were then asked to place the badge holder containing the RF tags (see Section 5.1) around their neck, and were allowed to browse through the exhibits at their own pace in whatever manner they chose.

We first tracked 8 visitors in Gallery 1, before relocating the exhibits to Gallery 2 and tracking a further 7 (unique) visitors. The reason we used two separate spaces (with the same set of exhibits) was to control for the effects of the physical space on visitor behaviour and the accuracy of the RFID-based tracker. Gallery 1 was selected to be a smaller space with high reflexivity, possibly impacting on the accuracy of RFID antennae. Gallery 2 was a much larger, more regularly-shaped space, more like an open-plan gallery in an actual museum.

6.2. Evaluation methodology

On completion of the tracking, we had a total of 3 tracks (two human and one machine) for each of the 15 visitors. We were unable to identify a standard evaluation methodology for tracking experiments of this type, and thus chose to develop our own evaluation metrics. In each case, we evaluate a given pairing of tracks for a given visitor; namely, the pairing of the two human trackers, and the pairing of the RFID-based tracker with the “intersection” of the human trackers. The human pairing is intended to be an upper bound estimate of the best-possible tracking performance we could expect to achieve, based on the assumption that humans are “gold standard” trackers. The machine-human pairing, on the other hand, is intended to provide a relative evaluation of how close to human performance the machine is able to get. We calculate the ‘intersection’ of the human trackers by computing the time intervals where both trackers have recorded that the visitor is engaged with a given exhibit. For example, consider the two triples from human tracker 1 and human tracker 2, respectively:

(Exibit1, 00:00:05, 00:00:35) [start time = 5 seconds into visit, end time = 35 seconds into visit]

(Exibit1, 00:00:15, 00:01:00)

The intersection would be calculated as:

(Exibit1, 00:00:15, 0:00:35)

as this is the duration where both trackers are in agreement that the visitor is engaged with the exhibit.

We developed a total of two evaluation metrics, based on either: (1) the simple sequence of exhibits in each of the two tracks under consideration (ignoring the time spent engaging with each exhibit); or (2) the timed sequence of exhibits, where the relative agreement in the duration (and start and end points) of engagement with a given exhibit is taken into account.

6.2.1. Edit Distance

The first evaluation metric, based on the simple sequence of exhibits, is edit distance (a.k.a. Levensthein distance). First, for each tracking mode (i.e. RFID, human tracker 1 or human tracker 2), we generate a list of triples of the form (Exhibit ID, start time, end time) for each visitor (ignoring the time spent at each exhibit). We then calculate the edit distance between a given pairing of exhibit sequences; that is, the minimal number of insertion, deletion and substitution operations required to transform one sequence into the second, first for the pairing of the two human trackers and then for the intersection of the two human trackers readings and the RFID based readings. For example, let us consider the two sequences, E1,E2,E3,E4 (i.e. Exhibit 1 followed by Exhibit 2, and so on) and E2,E1,E3,E4,E5. Starting from the first sequence, it is possible to generate the second by: (1) substituting E2 for E1 (generating E2,E2,E3,E4), (2) substituting E1 for the second E2 (generating E2,E1,E3,E4), and (3) inserting E5 at the end of the sequence (generating E2,E1,E3,E4,E5). The reader can hopefully confirm that this is the minimum number of basic edit operations needed to transform the first sequence into the second (and also that the result is symmetric). As a result, the edit distance between the two strings is calculated to be 3 (2 substitutions and 1 insertion). In practice, we use the standard dynamic programming algorithm to calculate edit distance.

Edit distance returns a non-negative integer. The lower this number, the greater the agreement between the two tracks (noting that identical tracks will have an edit distance of 0).

6.2.2. Paired t-test

The second evaluation metric is based on a two-tailed paired t-test, over a pair of timed sequences of exhibits. The paired t-test is a parametric hypothesis test for comparing paired samples; i.e., two sets of observations over a common sample space. In order to apply it to our tracking data, we need the two timed sequences to be fully aligned. Assume, for example, we have the following track for human tracker 1:

(Exhibit 1,0:00:05,0:00:35) [start time = 5 seconds into visit, and end time = 35 seconds into visit]

(Exhibit 1,0:00:40,0:00:55)

(Exhibit 2,0:01:00,0:01:30)

and the following track for human tracker 2:

(Exhibit 1,0:00:15,0:01:00)

(Exhibit 2,0:01:05,0:01:40)

The two sequences are of different length, and cannot be ‘paired’ cleanly. We resolve this by aligning the two sequences by calculating the pairings with the highest overlap (essentially overlaying the two sequences onto a timeline and aligning a given observation to the observation in the second track with the highest time overlap, resolving ties via a greedy search mechanism to ensure a single observation is mapped to at most one observation of non-zero overlap in the second track). In our example above, we would arrive at the following alignment:

Human tracker 1

Human tracker 2

(Exhibit 1,0:00:05,0:00:35)

(Exhibit 1,0:00:15,0:01:00)

(Exhibit 1,0:00:40,0:00:55)

(Exhibit 2,0:01:00,0:01:30)

(Exhibit 2,0:01:05,0:01:40)

We then convert the start/end times for each observation into durations, and for unpaired observations, insert a zero-duration observation:

Human tracker 1

Human tracker 2

(Exhibit 1,0:00:30)

(Exhibit 1,0:00:45)

(Exhibit 1,0:00:15)

(Exhibit 1,0:00:00)

(Exhibit 2,0:00:30)

(Exhibit 2,0:00:35)

We normalize the durations by calculating the arithmetic mean for each pair of observations, and calculating the relative deviation from the mean for each observation, by subtracting the mean from the original value and dividing the result by the mean. This would result in the following normalized values:

Human tracker 1

Human tracker 2

(Exhibit 1,-0.20)

(Exhibit 1,0.20)

(Exhibit 1,1.00)

(Exhibit 1,-1.00)

(Exhibit 2,-0.08)

(Exhibit 2,0.08)

Finally, we perform a two-tailed paired t-test over the two arrays of normalized values, and return the t value. For the detailed mathematics, we refer the reader to a statistics textbook. In our example, the final t value is 0.59. Similarly to edit distance, the higher the t value, the greater the difference between the two tracks (but here, two identical tracks will produce a divide by 0 error, which we can interpret as 0 for the sake of stability).

6.3. Results and analysis

We present the results of our tracking experiment for Gallery 1 and Gallery 2 in Tables 1 and 2, respectively, based on our two evaluation metrics, separating out the two tracking modalities (gaze and distance).


Edit distance

Paired t-test


HT1 vs. HT2







HT1 vs. HT2






Table 1

Table 1: For Gallery 1, the average edit distance and t value (based on the paired t-test) for human tracker 1 vs. human tracker 2 (HT1 vs. HT2), and human tracker intersection vs. RFID-based readings (HT vs. RFID), for the gaze and distance tracking modalities


Edit distance

Paired t-test


HT1 vs. HT2







HT1 vs. HT2






Table 2

Table 2: For Gallery 2, the average edit distance and t value (based on the paired t-test) for human tracker 1 vs. human tracker 2 (HT1 vs. HT2), and human tracker intersection vs. RFID-based readings (HT vs. RFID), for the gaze and distance tracking modalities

First, we observe that the RFID-based tracker always performs worse than human performance (i.e. the human trackers agree with each other to a greater degree than they agree with the RFID-based tracker), a predictable trend given that humans provide the gold-standard for the task. More importantly, the relative agreement with the human trackers for the RFID-based tracker is almost unchanged between the distance and gaze modalities. This leads to the surprising conclusion that the RFID-based tracker is equally capable of emulating proximity-based tracking as it is gaze-based tracking, which is a very promising result for the proposed technology. Recall also that the RFID-based tracker is a proximity-based technology, making it doubly surprising that it should work so well. Returning to our research question in Section 6.1, it would appear that proximity is a relatively good proxy for the gaze modality, and that proximity-based technologies offer a cheap means of gaze-based tracking. Comparing our human-human upper bound performance between distance- and gaze-based tracking, we see relatively little difference for Gallery 1 but a larger difference in terms of the t value for Gallery 2. In fact, for Gallery 2, the t-test suggests that there is very little separating human and machine performance. A primary cause of this result is one particularly “excitable” visitor who continually looked back and forth between exhibits and the trackers, and attempted to engage the trackers in conversation on the objectives of the research and what they were doing. This particular visit was tracked based on gaze, and the continual changes in gaze and approaches from the visitor led to markedly lower agreement for this one visitor. We included this in our results, but in practice this is somewhat of an anomaly and not indicative of what we would expect to observe in a real-world museum.

Comparing the results for Gallery 1 and Gallery 2, the edit distance was appreciably higher in Gallery 2, and conversely, the t value was appreciably higher in Gallery 1. The reason for the relatively low edit distance in Gallery 1 was the restricted space and particular layout of the exhibits, which tended to cause the visitors to visit the exhibits in the same order, and never return to an exhibit they had already visited. Overall tracks were thus shorter, meaning that the mean edit distance value was lower. In Gallery 2, the open plan meant that there was more variation in the path followed, and more revisiting of exhibits by visitors. The longer tracks thus led to higher edit distances. The reason for the t value dropping appears to relate to the trackers becoming more familiar with the tracking methodology and software, and more precise in their start and end times for exhibit engagement. While we predicted that the higher density of reflexive surfaces in Gallery 1 could lead to a drop in performance, this was not evident in our RFID readings.

The primary cause of errors for the RFID-based tracker was false negatives; i.e. the tracker failing to sense a visitor when s/he was in the proximity of a given exhibit. In particular, there were no readings for one visitor, probably as a result of their body blocking the UHF signals. In our experimental setting, we deliberately chose not to provide any explicit feedback to the user on whether they were being sensed or not. In fact, there was no direction to the visitors as to the purpose of the badge holder. In an actual museum setting where the tracking is tied to a service, it would be more pertinent to provide real-time feedback to the user to ensure they were tracked successfully and as a result got the maximum benefit from the service. We expect this would avoid pathologically bad cases such as this. What it does point to is the fact that while humans are not 100% consistent (as seen in the fact that we did not have 0 edit distance and t values for either gallery), they are at least consistent in the relative level of noise in their observations across visitors. That is, we did not observe any instances where the level of agreement between the human trackers was appreciably higher for one particular visitor or one of the two mini-galleries (other than the space-related effect described above). The RFID-based tracker, on the other hand, worked well overall, but had poor worst-case performance.

A secondary cause of the results for the RFID-based tracker being artificially bad was momentary drop out in the UHF signal when a visitor remained in front of a given exhibit, meaning that two separate instances of exhibit were recorded. Under both our evaluation metrics, this leads to a penalty in the final edit distance or t value. While we do not present the results there, we experimented with smoothing methods (based on a sliding window approach) to reduce such noise in the data, and achieved very slight improvements in our results.

7. Conclusions and Future Work

In this paper, we propose a tracking architecture based on RFID technology, targeted particularly at museum spaces. We deployed the proposed system in a mini-gallery and used it to track visitors relative to exhibits. To evaluate the tracking accuracy of the system, we carried out a direct comparison with human trackers, based on two evaluation metrics and two separate tracking modalities (distance and gaze). Our results indicate that the RFID-based tracker is surprisingly accurate, and equally capable of emulating distance- and gaze-based tracking.

Although the results were promising, they also showed that RFID is susceptible to environmental interference and suffers from a complete loss of tracking output, for instance, when a tag is obstructed. Further research is required to determine the level of user awareness required to minimize such effects. We are also interested in testing the scalability of the proposed methodology, with more exhibits, and more importantly, more visitors at a time. Additionally, we hope to carry out more systematic exploration of the effect of the physical space (e.g. reflective surfaces, restricted spaces, and physical obstructions) on tracking accuracy.


We would like to acknowledge the efforts of the following individuals: Karl Grieser in curating the exhibits used in this research; Fabian Bohnert for providing considerable technical assistance with GeckoTracker and input on the evaluation; Lars Kulik, Egemen Tanin and members of the SUM Lab for various technical discussions and prods in the right direction; members of the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering for being willing “guinea pig” visitors; and Carolyn Meehan for her support and domain expertise throughout.


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Cite as:

Baldwin, T. and L.T. Kuriakose, Cheap, Accurate RFID Tracking of Museum Visitors for Personalized Content Delivery. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2009: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2009. Consulted