Why Real Time Locating is Becoming More Popular

The recent Nordic Semiconductor wireless quarter magazine contained an article on positioning and real time locating systems (RTLS). RTLS is experiencing growth:

RTLS detects the position of people and assets in real time. Tags are attached to people or assets and the radio signals from the tag allow the location to be determined. The real time aspect is important because it provides the current position automatically, unlike barcode scans and and NRF tags that are only as up to date as the last successful scan. With older, manual, systems, people are lazy and forget to scan.

A complete RTLS system comprises of readers, tag/sensors, application software and communications/network infrastructure.

Asset tracking is being used in industry verticals such as healthcare, defence, education and manufacturing. It commonly tracks tools, equipment, pallets, sub-assemblies, jobs and completed goods.

People tracking has tended to be used more in education and health where the security of individuals is more important than privacy concerns related to tracking people.

RTLS growth is being driven by the benefit of real time tracking allowing processes to be much more efficient. Effort and time is saved when things and people can be found quickly. Alerts notify abnormal conditions to provide for proactive actions. Reports track long term trends to allow identification of patterns that can be used to change processes to improve efficiency.

Bluetooth is popular for use with RTLS because tags and readers are inexpensive compared to other technologies. Bluetooth also works indoors where GPS fails. Unlike other technologies, Bluetooth LE tags have a long battery life of up to several years. There are also tags that perform sensing and Bluetooth LE is suitable for use in electrically noisy environments. Bluetooth also integrates with Bluetooth LE devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops.

At Beaconzone we are seeing two new trends in use of RTLS. The first is using RTLS for multiple purposes. Customers often come to us wanting to solve a particular problem but later find the RTLS has a multitude of uses and benefits. This is where a closed solution offering, for example, a lone worker solution, won’t be so flexible.

Established real-time location system market players are shifting from closed solution offerings to including best-in-breed components in application layer

Allied Market Research

The second trend, brought on by Covid, is the tracking of office workers. What might have used to be seen as an invasion of privacy is now being seen as an essential way to monitor room occupancy and determine who has been in the same room as someone else when a person tests positive for Covid.

Read about BeaconRTLS

iBeacon Deployment Parameters for Locating

Researchers from the The Hong Kong Polytechnic University have a new paper on Performance Evaluation of iBeacon Deployment for Location-Based Services in Physical Learning Spaces (pdf) that tests environmental and deployment factors, indoors and outdoors, related to using ibeacons for locating. It provides recommendations for iBeacon deployment in terms of location, density, transmission interval, fingerprint space interval and collection time.

iBeacon deployment

The paper provides a great introduction to positioning using beacon received signal strength (RSSI). It describes trilateration and fingerprinting methods for determining location.

Key insights are:

  • High temperature, strong wind and blocking by pedestrians degraded the signal strength.
  • Pedestrians traffic blocking the line of sight caused the most signal attenuation and variation.
  • High air temperature caused significant increase of packet loss that affected the RSSI.
  • Strong wind reduced the signal strength but didn’t affect the stability of signals.
  • Trees and nearby vehicle traffic didn’t have any negative effects on signals.
  • Lower error rates were observed when beacons were deployed on the ceiling as opposed to on the wall.
  • Positioning accuracy improved with ceiling placement due to the reduction of obstructions.
  • If ceilings are too high or ceiling deployment is impracticable wall mounted iBeacons should be placed as high as possible.
  • For fingerprinting, sample at 2m grid intervals for 6s to 10s at each point. Avoid having too many beacons as this won’t improve the positioning accuracy. A transmission interval of 100ms is detrimental to the positioning accuracy. 417ms is better.
  • For fingerprinting, positioning accuracy varies greatly according to the what is in the room.

The paper mentions that beacon UUID, major and minor are used to uniquely identify beacons. While this is true in the context of detecting using apps, most locating systems use gateways. Gateways use the Bluetooth MAC address to uniquely identify beacons and the advertising type, iBeacon, Eddystone or other, is irrelevant. Using gateways as receivers is also a solution to the problem of variability in receiving capability across smartphones.

The study only considered one beacon type and two receiving smartphones. At Beaconzone, we recommend experimenting with the actual hardware in the actual environment as, being wireless radio, optimum settings and can vary considerably.

Read about location accuracy

Read about Using Beacons, iBeacons for Real-time Locating Systems (RTLS)

Hospital Asset Tracking

There’s a new article on MyLondon on How this Putney hospital is using smart technology to track down life-saving equipment. It explains how Putney hospital is using sensors to track equipment, such as ECG machines, to make them easier to find. They are also monitoring the temperatures of fridges and the occupancy of rooms.

Hospital Asset Tracking Using Bluetooth

The time saving is incredible… there are thousands of more things the hospital would want to track in the future

Toby Roberts, Putney Hospital Associate Director of Information

At BeaconZone we have customers using beacons to track wheelchairs, porters carrying medicines and the location of vulnerable Alzheimer’s patients.

We have found the main problem with introducing new technology into hospitals is lack of funding. Anything outside purchasing for the frontline is de-prioritised. Health providers tend to have have blinkered priorities that work against efficiency and cost savings.

If you think about having three key nurses and a couple of health care assistants running around the hospital for half an hour to find a piece of equipment, even if you just add up their hourly rate, let alone the increase in service quality, it’s really quite an easy equation to justify

Toby Roberts, Putney Hospital Associate Director of Information

Read more about Beacons in Life Sciences

Workplace Office Software Using iBeacons

Robin is workplace software that allows teams to manage meeting space and desk inventory via an office map. It uses iBeacons to determine worker presence.

People can book meeting rooms, move desks and find their teammates quicker. Analytics allow better understanding of space usage, identification of under-utilized areas and discovery of patterns in occupancy to proactively improve the office layout.

Robin has features that provide for return to work during the Covid pandemic with facilities to set up socially distanced seating plans that allow for your ideal capacity.

Read about using iBeacons with Robin.

View iBeacons

In-Vehicle Bluetooth Sensing

Teltonika have an innovative range of advanced vehicle trackers that include Bluetooth. The tracker can scan for other nearby Bluetooth devices and send sensor data to a server.

FMB120 Telematics Tracker

There’s a getting started guide that explains how this is setup and provides screens showing how it works.

This allows not just for sensing telematics about the vehicles themselves but also about other assets or people. For example, if people carry beacons it’s possible to know who is driving or is in a vehicle. If you tag equipment usually stored in a vehicle you can determine where it is or if it is about to be removed from a vehicle. For temperature sensitive goods, such as medicines, you can continuously audit temperature compliance. It’s also possible to provide for location specific triggering, for example, producing work orders when a vehicle reaches an exact point whether or not there’s GPS coverage.

Read more about sensor beacons

Safety System Using iBeacon

The Department of Electronics and Communication Engineering of TJS Engineering College, Chennai, India has a new paper on Women Safety System using iBeacon Technology.

It describes a system that uses iBeacon to provide tracking of women when out alone. As it uses iBeacon, it is presumably for use where GPS doesn’t work. Also, while not mentioned, it might equally be used for all vulnerable people including lone workers, young, old and disabled.

Women safety system using iBeacon

The system consists of a wearable belt that tracks location and sends alerts via cellular connection. It uses heartbeat, sound and pressure sensors to detect abnormal situations.

Read more about iBeacons

View iBeacons

Using AI Machine Learning to Infer Distance

There’s new research by Guglielmo Marconi University and University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, Italy on Indoor Localization System Based on Bluetooth Low Energy for Museum Applications.

The use of location in museums allows personalised tour guidance and on-demand exhibit information to be provided. Location also allows analysis of visitor flows to better design spaces through the identification of choke points and redundant areas.

Museum Bluetooth Location

The system had visitors emit Eddystone beacon advertising received by ESP32-based devices acting as gateways to a server.

Museum Bluetooth Location System

The research is novel in that it uses AI machine learning on the received signal strength (RSSI) to infer location. This helps overcome the problems of variable signal strength experienced in indoor locations due to reflections and obstacles. It also prevents the need for fingerprinting the entire area which is time consuming and fails when the physical situation changes.

RSSI Location for Museum

The method achieved accuracy of the order of 2m and this improved to 1m with the use of more receivers.

Read about Using Beacons, iBeacons for Real-time Locating Systems (RTLS)

Learn about BeaconRTLS™

Trilateration for node.js

There’s a new implementation of trilateration for node.js. It can be used with beacons to determine location.

Trilateration is the determination of location using three of more measurements in space. People often incorrectly call this triangulation when, in fact, it’s called trilateration.

ibeacon trilateration

The node.js implementation is for use on servers using Node. You get the data up to the server either using smartphone apps or Bluetooth gateways.

Remote Team Management Using iOS as an iBeacon

S Sindhumol of Cochin University of Science and Technology, Kochi, India presents recent research into Implementation and Analysis of a Smart Team Management System using iOS Devices as iBeacon (pdf).

The key thing about this research is that it uses iOS rather than a beacon to advertise iBeacon. The system allows the entire team to determine the location of other members, perform location based tasks, receive announcements and communicate via instant chat.

iBeacon Team Management Screens

The paper contains some useful analysis of accuracy of distance measurement on distance, interference, measured power and obstructions:

Effect of iBeacon distance accuracy with obstructions
Effect of iBeacon distance accuracy with presence of another iBeacon
Effect of measured power variation on proximity and accuracy
Effect of obstructing objects on RSSI and Accuracy

On iOS it’s only possible to advertise iBeacon if the app is in foreground:

The major limitation of the proposed app is battery drainage while keeping the app active all the time in the foreground

A more practical system would have been implemented by having the users carry a separate wearable beacon. This would have allowed presence to be detected when the app isn’t in foreground and there wouldn’t have been a problem with excessive iOS battery use.

4 Ways Beacons are Being Used to Fight the Covid Pandemic

  • Staff Locating – While our BeaconRTLS™ was previously mainly used in factories and warehouses, it is now being used more to determine the location of staff and occupancy of buildings. What might have seemed to be an invasion of privacy is now seen as something desirable to help ensure the safety of workers and audit compliance to industry-specific guidelines.
  • Lone Working – There has been an increase in the use of beacons providing touch-free ‘check-in’ for workers and for SOS.
  • Cafes and Restaurants – Beacons are increasingly being used to identify tables for use in app-based ordering of food.