On a steamy afternoon last September, an exhausted Cynthia Rubio watched Texas National Guard troops help passengers off military planes at a small airport near College Station. Some people were on gurneys, others in wheelchairs. There were disoriented nursing home residents and frightened children. All were fleeing Hurricane Ike, one of the most destructive storms in U.S. history.
They had something else in common as well. Each passenger wore a bright-yellow tracking wristband developed by Rubio’s company, Radiant RFID. The wristband’s computer chip allowed disaster officials to track the real-time whereabouts of special-needs evacuees, using radio wave technology similar to that used in electronic highway toll systems.
“The bands really made a difference,” says Rubio, adding that thousands of families who called the state’s emergency response center during the hurricane were able to locate loved ones. The wristbands also significantly boosted the profits of the Austin-based technology firm that Rubio founded four years ago.
That’s a goal Rubio couldn’t have imagined even a few years ago, as a 36-year-old stay-at-home mom with three kids under ten and a husband who traveled for work five days a week. “My husband was a real road warrior,” she says. “All I wanted was to have my family back together.”
Gearing up to return to work after the birth of her third child, Rubio considered a career in real estate, but “I realized I wanted to do something technical again,” she says.
A friend suggested RFID-radio frequency identification. The technology wasn’t new, but it was mainly being used to track packages at companies like Wal-Mart.
Rubio and her husband, Kenny Ratton, began imagining wider applications, and in spring 2005, Radiant RFID made its debut at a business conference for 7,000 at a Las Vegas hotel. Participants wearing RFID tags on their badges moved in and out of events without having to stand in lines to sign in.
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