We lose things all the time, and we need a quick, reliable way to find them again. On a personal level, it’s frustrating, but on a business or campus-level, losing track of assets or the location of employees can be costly. Imagine how much clearer the world would be if we knew where our items, employees, guests, etc. instantly.
There is a possible solution. Real-time Locating Systems (RTLS), a cutting-edge possibility that can effectively tracking our things. Tracking systems are not new--we have barcodes, RFID and GPS for various uses--but RTLS stands out in that it allows you to track the location of assets on a computer screen in real time.
The term was coined in 1998 at an Expo trade show where it was hyped up as a system based on RFID, or radio-frequency identification, which is a small tag consisting of a chip and an antenna that could broadcast radio waves. You may know them from the little shiny stickers in books at bookstores. Today, however, RTLS is most effective with bluetooth beacons for solve the problem of tracking your items in real time.
Bluetooth beacons are devices that emit Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), an energy-saving radio wave that can be “heard” by Bluetooth-capable devices. Beacons are simple in that way--they only emit signals and don’t collect your information. The signals reach beacon sensors, which detect the signals and can then decode them or relay them to a mobile app or cloud for additional analysis.
The locating capability of RTLS is what you get from the layers of technology that are added on top of basic bluetooth. In other words, the foundation of the RTLS is bluetooth, but the entire system is more robust.. You can get the rundown on beacons from our article here.
How Asset Tracking is Done through RTLS
The main sequence of RTLS system is to translate the physical into the virtual through a series of radio wave transmissions. The start is a bluetooth beacon, and the end destination is a usable app or software for the client to track their assets. Different RTLS systems will vary in their components such as hardware and software, but they typically flow in the following sequence:
1.Bluetooth beacons emit signals.
Beacon Asset Tags (Card)
These tags emit small packets of data (usually just their ID number but sometimes also telemetry info) through bluetooth signals at steady intervals.
They never have to be turned off because of their low energy use, and they can last several years (around 36 months with BeaconGrid products).
- Sensors “see” the signals from asset tags.
Beacon signals from asset tags are by bluetooth-capable receivers, which comprise a large variety of devices. In RTLS, bluetooth receivers or sensors must also be WiFi-enabled in order to send beacon data to the cloud.
- Sensors are gateways signals to a server.
Sensors relay the “sighting” of an asset tag and additional information (i.e., time of sight, battery, temperature, etc.) to a e cloud-based or dedicated server. Cloud-based servers are virtual servers provided by cloud services, while dedicated servers are physical servers. Servers are necessary to store, organize and process the large quantities of asset sighing data.
- Data is translated into a visual format.
The data may be mapped against a floor plan or building to enable a visual representation of all assets.. Here at BeaconGrid our Location Engine is a large part of the RTLS infrastructure, as it performs AI-assisted calculations to determine the beacon’s real-time location in real time, which is constantly tuned as the signals are repeated.
(We’re working on it)
- Data may be consumed via APIs.
Visual data can be transmitted to web or mobile apps using asset tracking APIs, enabling you to use the data for alarms, notifications, navigation, or even monitoring.
To recap, beacon asset tags periodically broadcast a signal., Sensors “see” these signals send each sighting to a the cloud. . A Location Engine then consumes data from multiple sources, applies some complicated math, and determines the location of the tag to each sensor.
Such location information may be used to set alarms if a person or thing is not “seen” by a particular sensor for a particular amount of time. Or, it could be used to help with autonomous indoor navigation or RTLS asset tracking. You can track your assets in real-time as location information is constantly updated with data from multiple sensors.. It’s powerful stuff!
- RTLS uses bluetooth and WiFi, beacons, bluetooth receivers and servers.
- The process takes you from the physical to the virtual.
- The end result is a neat map that tracks all of your assets wherever bluetooth signals are received and WiFi is enabled.
Real-life Beacon RTLS uses
Beacon RTLS has had some small, successful launches in various environments--hospitals, stadiums and museums. It has the potential to affect almost any indoor environment in the future, as people begin to see new uses.
One example of RTLS is its installation in Levi’s Stadium, home of the 49ers in Santa Clara. The installation, completed in November of 2014 by Aruba Networks, is one of the first indoor positioning systems to be installed on a large scale. A large number of hardware beacons and a smaller number of WiFi gateways connected with USB beacons are placed at intervals around the stadium. Stadium-goers have access to an indoor map of the stadium on their smartphones, which reveals their location as well as nearby bathrooms, beer and hotdog vendors.
The University of Oklahoma (OU) adopted RTLS in its library system, the largest in the state, in 2015. Wanting to help visitors navigate its massive collections in the Bizzell Library with a smartphone app called NavApp. The app contains a map of the library and a dot that represents where you are. It includes guidance, such as turn-by-turn directions to get to research materials of interest, bathrooms, exits, galleries and elevators. With NavApp, visitors can also access extra resources on their smartphones when touring the exhibit “Galileo’s World.” You can learn more about how beacon-based systems can play a role in universities by viewing our infographic on beacons in universities.
Cardiac Treatment at the LUMC
The Dutch Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) implemented RTLS to monitor and quicken the treatment for patients admitted for acute myocardial infarction, heart attacks. The patient is tagged with a beacon-enabled bracelet that alerts administrators at the LUMC as soon as they enter the emergency department, allowing hospital staff to prioritize the patient’s case. Bluetooth receivers installed in the entrance and down the halls to the operating room track the amount of time it takes for patients to move through the hospital, as well as the time it takes to undergo treatment. This information previously was unknown or had to be timed and recorded by hospital staff but can now be automatically logged, providing valuable research data on the quality of treatment.
BeaconGrid has participated in many use cases from smart navigation to asset tracking initiatives. We offer a patented mix of hardware and cloud software; BLE tags, gateways, sensors, and APIs for asset tracking, operational monitoring, access control, and navigational/workforce management solutions.
Learn more about our previous projects and how we can integrate RTLS into your business by contacting us here.
Want to learn more about bluetooth beacons? Read our beginner's guide to beacons.
Interested in Asset Tracking with RTLS and beacons? Get in touch by clicking below!