UWB Brings Mapping Services Indoors (RFID Journal)

HERE is partnering with Decawave to enable its mapping services to identify the locations of individuals and things within 10 centimeters inside buildings. Several manufacturing companies are now testing the technology for tracking forklifts and monitoring work-in-progress.

Mapping and location services company HERE Technologies is bringing precise location and mapping services indoors, with positioning information using ultra-wideband (UWB) technology provided by Decawave. The teaming of Decawave’s technology with HERE’s mapping services will enable users to pinpoint the locations of goods or individuals via UWB transmissions, the companies report. With the system, the partners explain, HERE’s services will provide 3D location to within about 10 centimeters (3.9 inches).

Decawave is an Irish firm that makes UWB transceiver chips used for RFID and real-time location system (RTLS) applications. The company’s DW1000 UWB transceiver chip complies with the IEEE 802.15.4-2011 standard. The chip, which measures 6 millimeters by 6 millimeters (0.2 inch by 0.2 inch), uses a very low energy level to transmit short- and medium-range (about 70 to 250 feet) and short-duration transmissions (up to 6.8Mbps) to gateway receivers.

HERE, based in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, captures location content for such applications as road networking, building, parks and traffic management. The company is also working to create self-driving technology. It has maps in approximately 200 countries.

The partnership enables HERE and Decawave to offer a solution, including modules and cloud-based software, that is easy for users to deploy, regardless of a company’s size. Traditionally, says Mickael Viot, Decawave’s marketing VP, an RTLS deployment might require multiple vendors from system integrators to hardware providers, and could incur high installation costs. Viot says he has spoken with customers who have indicated that they need a solution in which the services, infrastructure, integration and hardware can come from a single source.

“Customers don’t want tags or anchors,” Viot says. “They want data. We’re trying to bring out-of-the-box experiences for customers, with some flexibility.” The two companies began working together about a year ago, he recalls.

In the meantime, HERE has been working for several years to build out its mapping services to include indoor location, according to Erminio di Paolo, HERE’s head of tracking. The firm has worked with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) solutions, but both have some shortcomings for indoor mapping, he explains. With Wi-Fi technology, the positioning can be to within about 5 to 7 meters (16.4 and 30 feet)—or 3 to 5 meters for BLE (9.8 to 16.4 feet)—but not tighter than that. However, he says, Wi-Fi and BLE technologies each work well for such purposes as indoor wayfinding.

In recent years, though, HERE has been working with commercial and industrial customers that require much more granular location data so that they can benefit from the mapping and location services. For instance, in the case of manufacturing, di Paolo says, “We need very high positioning accuracy” that could enable users to understand exactly where a part under assembly is located—in proximity to robotic tools, for instance. With very specific location data, he adds, users could accomplish tasks such as linking a particular person to a specific tool, so that a company would know who was operating a given tool if it later ended up inoperable or missing.

There are other activities in the manufacturing, industrial and logistics sectors that require very tight indoor positioning as well. Autonomous forklifts, for instance, can only operate—in an indoor setting, around people—if the location data is highly specific. By knowing the forklift’s exact location, as well as its proximity to personnel or machinery, a company can prevent accidents, for instance.

With the Decawave and HERE solution, businesses can simply attach the UWB transponder to a piece of equipment or asset, or provide workers with a Decawave-enabled badge. The device emits its signal to gateway receivers deployed throughout a facility. That location data is then captured by HERE Technologies software, which uses the information to provide necessary content for customers, such as a dashboard to view where tagged items or individuals are located, historically and in real time. The data can also be integrated with a user’s automated equipment to trigger actions, such as a forklift engine powering down if the system senses that it is within close proximity to another forklift.

Several manufacturers are currently testing the technology at their facilities, di Paolo reports. “Like any new technology,” he says, “there’s a period of investment in understanding through pilots.” While initial interest is coming from industrial customers, the increased use of autonomous vehicles, in the long run, could lead to such use cases as the self-parking of cars in public lots in Europe, North America and beyond.

Consumer demand for personalized services in the hospitality industry is also driving interest in UWB-based indoor positioning from hotels, di Paolo adds. By understanding the locations of guests, for instance, a hotel could provide such services as automatically unlocking appropriate doors for an individual based on his or her location (as long as he or she has a Decawave-enabled badge or card). However, such service would require very precise location data, so that an event like unlocking doors would only occur if an individual were standing directly in front of the door.

Decawave offers several benefits that can be added to the HERE solution, Viot says, including a long battery life for the UWB devices (1.2 years in high-demand use cases, and five to seven years in lower-demand systems). He notes that Decawave UWB tags are already built into many cars for keyless entry, bringing them one step closer to being tracked by location, if a use case were to require it.

In construction, Decawave’s chips are being used with Redpoint Positioning technology, by companies such as builder Skanska, for the purpose of ensuring worker safety. Skanska is using the technology at construction sites in Boston to identify where employees and moving equipment are located, enabling it to understand where potentially hazardous areas are located—and to warn workers accordingly.

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