Latest Amusement Park Mass Conditioning Exercise: Tracking Systems for Your Family
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Latest Amusement Park Mass Conditioning Exercise: Tracking Systems for Your Family
Violet Jones
July 27, 2004 was horrified (but not surprised) earlier this year to find biometric hand scanners at the entrance to Sea World in San Antonio, Texas. Upon further research, we found Disney parks, among others, enlisting this invasive, unnecessary technology. What better place than a family amusement park to begin to ingrain acceptance of biometrics in the average Joe and to condition them that this a privacy-invasive technology is fun and that a cashless society will be a great big blast?

In late June we reported that Legoland was using RFID chips to enable parents to track their kids while at the park. Now we have discovered that Paramount's Great America and several other amusement parks in the country are using Star Watch (SafeTzone), an RFID system, to track kids in their parks.

We should note that not only can this system be used as a locating device, it is also used as a "Cashless Spending Module." Per SafeTZone's website:

" SafeTzone's Cashless Spending Module eliminates the need for cash anywhere in the venue by turning each Locator into an “electronic wallet”. The elimination of cash will provide patrons with the freedom to utilize the venue services and make purchases at restaurants, games, attractions, and shops throughout the venue. Click here for additional information."

A tracker, a cashless spending module...sound familiar? These are the same "fun," "safety enhancing," and "liberating" features that the pushers of the implanted microchip are using. Just as the "VIPs" of the trendy Baja Beach Club in Barcelona, Spain are willingly having themselves injected with implantable microchips to ease their entry in to the club, to make them "feel special" and to allow them to pay for their libations with a scan of their implanted chips, the American public is happy to accept this novel and "fun" tracking device to make their vacation "easier."

Again, this is a carefully placed conditioning -- we want our kids to be safe, don't we? Plus -- it's fun, it's easy, it makes you feel special! What kind of stretch will it be to move towards implants for everyone as these thinly-veiled beast-system apparatuses are gleefully strapped on happy park goers across the country and around the globe?

Note the Mercury News article on Star Watch at Paramount says nothing about privacy concerns or the obvious strangeness of wearing a tracking device. The High School students who wrote the article's gripe with Star Watch: "the device -- for now -- just doesn't seem very practical." Perhaps an implanted chip would have been easier to use...


Paramount Press Release/June 24, 2004

Only Theme Park in Northern California to Offer Touch-Screen Technology That Helps Locate Groups, Rides and Restaurant

Santa Clara, Calif.— (June 24, 2004) —Paramount's Great America is working with Scooterbug Inc. (Woburn, Mass.) and SafeTzone Technologies Corporation (Laguna Hills, Calif.) to offer park guests Star Watch, a new and convenient way to locate group members and amenities inside the park.

Star Watch is a waterproof, watch-size device that is worn on the wrist of each group member. Once registered, park guests may scan the Star Watch at any of the park's seven Star Watch "LocationStations ® ," where group members can quickly locate one another on an electronic park map. Unlike conventional methods for reuniting groups, the system empowers group members with immediate visual answers to each other's whereabouts.

Star Watch users will also have the ability to:

  • Locate park amenities such as attractions and restrooms and find the best route to get there
  • Send confidential messages to other members of group
  • Receive information about Paramount's Great America's special promotions, show times and park events

"The Star Watch touch-screen technology enables park guests to access information at their fingertips", said Rod Rankin, Paramount's Great America's senior vice president and general manager. "It's a convenient and affordable guest amenity that provides visitors the opportunity to track everyone in their group or simply find the easiest route to a favorite ride or restaurant," added Rankin.

Star Watch can be rented for single-day use for $5 per person ($4 per person for VIP Passholders). Special advance pricing is also available for large groups.

Paramount's Great America is owned and operated by Paramount Parks, a unit of Viacom Inc.

Paramount Parks is a leading developer and operator of world-class theme parks and location-based attractions, entertaining more than 13 million guests annually. The company currently owns and operates five of the most popular theme parks in North America including: Paramount Canada's Wonderland (Toronto, Ontario, Canada); Paramount's Carowinds (Charlotte, N.C.); Paramount's Great America (Santa Clara, Calif.); Paramount's Kings Dominion (Richmond, Va.); and Paramount's Kings Island (Cincinnati, Ohio). The company also developed and manages the award-winning STAR TREK: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton (Las Vegas, Nev.) and manages Bonfante Gardens

horticultural theme park (Gilroy, Calif.); CBS Television City at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino (Las Vegas, Nev.); and Terra Mitica theme park (Benidorm, Valencia, Spain). More information about Paramount Parks is available at .

Viacom is a leading global media company, with preeminent positions in broadcast and cable television, radio, outdoor advertising, and online. With programming that appeals to audiences in every demographic category across virtually all media, the company is a leader in the creation, promotion, and distribution of entertainment, news, sports, music and comedy. Viacom's well-known brands include CBS, MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1, BET, Paramount Pictures, Viacom Outdoor, Infinity, UPN, Spike TV, TV Land, CMT: Country Music Television, Comedy Central, Showtime, Blockbuster, and Simon & Schuster. More information about Viacom and its businesses is available at .

About SafeTzone Technologies Corporation
SafeTzone Technologies Corporation is the leading provider of interactive guest location services systems in family destinations. These systems include real-time locating of individuals, amenity location, facility navigation, cashless spending, attraction reservation and park information. SafeTzone is headquartered in Laguna Hills, Calif. The SafeTzone System is also available at theme park and shopping mall locations in Tennessee, Nevada, Florida, and Southern California. For more information, visit .

About ScooterBug, Inc.
ScooterBug, Inc. is the largest provider of strollers, wheelchairs and electric convenience vehicles mobility services to amusement industry guests in the world. ScooterBug, Inc. is headquartered in Woburn, Massachusetts and its strollers and wheelchairs are available at over 130 amusement locations nationwide

Theme park tracking system lacks user-friendly features

By Margot Leong and Vikram Mahal
Mercury News/July 26, 2004

Anyone who's ever gone to an amusement park with a family or a large group knows how tough it can be to keep track of everyone.

Paramount's Great America in Santa Clara launched a high-tech service this season that should solve that problem -- or so it would seem.

Star Watch -- a tracking system that involves a wrist watch-like device and kiosks scattered throughout the park -- is far from a problem solver. It's a step in the right direction for using Silicon Valley technology to keep people in touch. But it needs so much refining that it was tough for us to get excited about it.

The device charts the journeys of different group members by using a local positioning system operating over radio frequencies. The park is divided into different zones. As a Star Watch user moves through those zones, antennas placed throughout the park transmit data about his or her whereabouts to a central computer.

The problem is that all of the cool things that Star Watch offers -- the ability to track people in your group, even find the nearest restroom or send e-mail and instant messages -- is dependent on finding one of the seven kiosks.

Finding the closest restroom was easier than finding one of the kiosks, which aren't marked on the Great America park map. The stations are very inconspicuous, looking like 4-foot campsite trash cans with touch screens. Also, there are no signs pointing out any of the stations and they have no lighting around them at night.

The e-mail and instant-messaging features at the kiosks were very cool, but Star Watch offers no alert system to notify users when they have a new message. Who wants to keep looking for a kiosk just to see if they have new messages?

And if Great America really wants people to use Star Watch, the rental booths need to be easier to find. It was in an obscure area next to a popcorn stand, not next to the park's entrance. It seems as though it would be really easy to just walk out of Great America with the watch because there are no security measures to make sure that forgetful users -- exhausted after a long day with children or a large group -- return it.

Star Watch rents for $5 per day per watch, which seems a bit high after we learned that the handful of other parks across the country with Star Watch charge customers about $2.50 a day.

Great America and the other parks are smart to offer a tracking system such as Star Watch. The walkie-talkie radios so many families use to stay in touch become a garbled mess when too many people try to talk to each other over the same radio channels.

But Star Watch -- or something like it -- needs more research and more fine-tuning for the future. While the proposed ideas of the Star Watch seem to offer many benefits, the device -- for now -- just doesn't seem very practical.

Margot Leong, a student at Menlo School, and Vikram Mahal, a student at Bellarmine College Preparatory, wrote this story for Mosaic, a high-school journalism workshop sponsored in part by the Mercury News.



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