In the old world, you’d better be very rich to afford RTLS systems
For long, RTLS (Real-time Location System) has been synonymous with RFID asset tracking, or sometimes WiFi, non-standard Ultrawide Band (UWB). But those technologies have been found ill-suited to help industrials to find value :
- RFID is most popular for identification, using passive RFID tags which are scanned by antennas located at specific gates. But for real-time tracking, it is not passive but active tags which are required, and those are non standard hence expensive, and also energy hungry.
- Ultrawide Band (UWB) delivers high accuracy, down to 20cm. But like RFID, it has for long been a non standard technology, expensive to purchase and to deploy.
- Wi-Fi is widely available but energy-intensive.
As a result, only affluent organisations, such as BMW for one of its factories, or private health clinics in the US, were able to deploy RTLS at scale.
Consumer adoption helped to democratise IoT technologies
As more objects became “smart”, from cars to phones, more and more sensors were used, including radio connectivity sensors. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) in particular, was first introduced on iPhone and Android in 2013, and now equips billions of devices.
More recently, the adoption curve of Ultrawide Band (UWB) technology took a giant step forward, when Apple announced its inclusion in iPhone 11 in September 2019. What is important here is the choice of Apple to support the IEEE 802.15.4z standard, rather than create another proprietary implementation of UWB, like historical RTLS providers did.
What the standardisation and democratisation of those IoT technologies means for RTLS is :
- Cheaper electronics
- Better and safer long-term returns
- More opportunities for connectivity and ecosystem building
RTLS is now much easier to test, adopt, deploy
Makers such as Decawave (UWB) and Nordics (BLE / Bluetooth 5) specialise on producing high volume, high quality dedicated chips. They also help drive the cost down, and solution makers to develop turnkey RTLS solutions.
Ubudu for instance has been perfecting its hybrid RTLS solution for years, using a combination of UWB and BLE radio, to help enterprises deploy indoor localisation use cases to solve their operational efficiency challenges of various natures.
Schneider Electric, which is both a partner and customer of Ubudu, has for instance well understood the potential of an RTLS platform to solve many issues using a single infrastructure. And as you can see in this video published by the Smart Factory lead in one of their most modern factories, deploying an RTLS solution is quite “plug and play”.