What is RTLS?
RTLS stands for real-time location system, a technology that uses small transmitters (such as beacons) to determine the current location of people or objects. A person, for example, may wear a beacon on a lanyard, while a forklift may use a tag or beacon mounted to the top of its cab. The beacon transmits a signal that is heard by one or more radio receivers (such as our Edge Relays) placed throughout a building, venue, or outdoor area.
Taking it just a step further, components may include:
Tags (Beacons): Small transmitters called beacons are used not only to determine the location of objects or workers but also to track their movements and establish their position in real-time. Beacons are placed wherever they make the most sense and cause the least inconvenience. (For example, beacons may be mounted on top of a forklift cab or in a worker’s lanyard or hard hat.)
Readers (Edge Relays): Each beacon transmits a signal heard by radio receivers, such as our Edge Relays, placed throughout a building/venue or covering an outdoor area.
Processor (Loop): When a reader hears a beacon signal, it sends the data to our location software platform, Loop, which records where the signal came from. Each signal contains a unique identification code, so Loop can establish the location of one object or worker versus another. After Loop locates a particular beacon, we can track where it’s been, where it is now, and – to some extent – where it’s going.
A beacon transmission is not just a single pulse of energy, but a series of pulses, that make up a digital packet of information. These pulses are coded to transmit a few key pieces of information, such as the beacon’s unique identification code, its remaining battery life, and perhaps some sensor data (such as temperature, acceleration, and/or heart rate).
How Accurate Is It?
One of the first things we determine for a new deployment is what kind of location accuracy is needed. Accuracy levels can range from:
- Proximity – it’s in this room somewhere
- 2-Dimensional – like looking down at a flat map
- 3-Dimensional – a precise location
The 2D and 3D levels also let you choose accuracy ranging from a few meters to a centimeter, depending upon the technology used.
As you might guess, higher accuracy systems cost more, so it’s important to have a thorough understanding of the goals for your project. In some cases, mixed systems make a lot of sense – for example, tracking at proximity-level throughout most of a building, and with precise accuracy where it’s really needed.
RTLS Technology – Bluetooth
Bluetooth low energy (BLE), is a standard for connecting various wireless devices with other BLE-enabled network devices. It’s 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 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 beacon is heard, which is called the Time of Arrival (TOA). When the same beacon 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). Our location software platform Loop uses these measurements to achieve precision-level accuracy where it’s needed most.
RTLS Technology – Other choices
BlueCats usually deploys BLE and UWB based solutions, but we can also incorporate RFID, WiFi, and other technologies in RTLS applications. Our location platform, Loop, is technology agnostic and accepts inputs from many sources, including BLE and UWB hardware produced by other companies. If you have hardware already deployed or want to integrate other technologies in our platform, we can do that, too.
What can RTLS can do for you? Contact us today!