What is an RTLS (Real Time Location System)?

RTLS stands for real-time location system, a technology used to determine the location of people or objects indoors and outdoors in real time to within meters or centimeters depending on the technology.

A person, for example, may wear a small transmitter known as a tag (or Beacon) on a lanyard, while a forklift may have a tag mounted on its cab. The Tag transmits a signal that is acquired by one or more radio receivers such as our Edge or ProxPoints placed throughout a building, venue or outdoor area.

Elements in a system

An RTLS system consists of three main elements; Tags, Readers and signal processing software.

Tags are a small transmitter used not only to determine the location of objects or workers but also to track their movements and establish their position in real-time. Tags are placed wherever they make the most sense and cause the least inconvenience. For example, a Tag may be mounted on top of a forklift cab I attached to a worker’s lanyard or on a hard hat.

Readers receive the signals from the tags and are placed in locations designed to maximize signal coverage throughout a building/venue or covering an outdoor area.

When a reader receives a Tag transmission, it sends the data to BlueCats’ location software processing platform, Loop. Loop  uses the information from all the readers to determine a location for the Tag. After Bluecats Loop locates a particular Tag, it can track where it has been, where it is now, and to some extent predict where it is going. Loop is available in both on-premises (Loop Local) and cloud-based (Loop Cloud) versions.

A Tag transmission is a series of pulses, which make up a digital packet of information. These pulses are coded to transmit a few key pieces of information, such as the tag’s unique identification code and its remaining battery life. In addition, the tag can transmit a variety of sensor data such as temperature, acceleration, and/or heart rate.

How Accurate is RTLS?

The short answer is it depends upon the application. What degree of accuracy does a customer need?

  • Proximity – it is in this room/aisle/quadrant somewhere
  • 1-Dimensional – Track on a line (manufacturing, aisles, etc.)
  • 2-Dimensional – like looking down at a flat map

The 2D level allows customers to choose accuracy ranging from 2-5meters to 2-5 centimeters, depending upon the technology used.

Unsurprisingly, higher accuracy systems cost more, so it is important to have a thorough understanding of the goals for any project implementation. In some cases, a mixed system may be the most appropriate, tracking at proximity-level throughout most of a building,  with precise accuracy where it is really needed.

RTLS Technology – Bluetooth®

Bluetooth® LE (Bluetooth® Low Energy), is a standard for connecting various wireless devices with other Bluetooth®-enabled network devices. For RTLS, it is mainly used for proximity- and 2D-level deployments, such as automatically updating inventory quantities and locations in an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or finding equipment in a laydown yard on a construction site.

RTLS Technology – Ultra-Wideband

Ultra-Wideband (UWB) is a much more capable (and sometimes more expensive) radio technology, which emits precisely timed, short pulses of energy at a low power level. These short pulses have a cleanly defined start time that allows UWB readers to measure the exact moment when a Tag’s signal is received, which is called the Time of Arrival (TOA). When the same Tag signal is heard by different readers throughout an area, slight differences in signal timing can be compared to establish a Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA). BlueCats location software platform Loop uses these measurements to achieve precision-level accuracy where it is needed most.

RTLS Technology – Other choices

BlueCats usually deploys Bluetooth® Low Energy and UWB-based solutions, but we can also incorporate RFID, Wi-Fi, and other technologies in RTLS applications. BlueCats location platform, Loop, is technology agnostic and accepts inputs from many sources, including Bluetooth® Low Energy and UWB hardware produced by other companies. This means that hardware a customer has already deployed, and other technologies, can be integrated into the BlueCats platform.

What can RTLS do for your business? Contact BlueCats today!