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Originally published Sunday, April 4, 2010 at 10:00 PM

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$1 billion opportunity seen in applied RFID technology

Interface Company profiles and personalities.

What: Orbiter, based in Tacoma

Who: Greg Stewart, 54, founder and managing member

Mission: Deliver tracking technology that uses radio frequency identification (RFID) devices to count runners' laps, control access to ski areas and for other uses.

Employees: 4 full-time workers, 19 independent contractors

Financials: Founded in 2007 and privately held, Orbiter expects more than $1 million in sales this year, its first year of full product deployment.

Old dog, new trick: RFID isn't new. What Stewart and his partners have done is discover new markets and customize the RFID technology to suit those markets.

Filling a need: "We discovered a market out of happenstance because a customer asked us to build a device for it," said Stewart. The market? Counting laps. Orbiter developed a 52-inch-high tower that contains a small computer, an RFID reader, a battery and a Wi-Fi system. RFID tags on runners' wrists, shoes or running bibs count laps and record times as runners pass the tower.

Big markets: Stewart said the market for such a product is surprisingly large. "For the military, nonprofits and schools, it's over $1 billion," he said.

Simplicity is key: "Our competitors offer systems that require a trained technician to operate," said Stewart. "We built our systems to be easy enough to use that a volunteer or physical-education teacher can operate it."

Challenging design: Orbiter's designers are challenged to come up with software that can handle a lot of data input at once. "I have gone through a number of software programmers who are proficient at writing software for computers but are just overwhelmed with this," Stewart said.

— Patrick Marshall

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