How to Get Started with Real-Time Location Systems & Chirp

December 14, 2021 by Norman Dziengel
Read in 18 Minutes

Connectivity is unlocking new opportunities to transform how businesses operate and as operations grow, so do the systems needed to manage them. There’s a lot that happens behind the scenes for businesses to operate the way they do - whether that be warehouses full of merchandise or construction to build the spaces we live in every day. And while they’ve been able to operate until now using items like barcodes and passive RFID tags to track their assets, there’s a better solution on the table - RTLS.

The difference is that barcodes and RFID track the 'what'- ie: what the products in your warehouses are. But RTLS is a process that not only tracks the ‘what’, but the ‘where' and ‘when’. This technology allows you to see where your products, vehicles and people are, as well as when they’ve moved, thanks to timestamping. 

The increased visibility from this technology is a direct response to so many challenges businesses face - whether that be inefficient workflows, lack of real-time visibility to prevent safety incidents or even just a competitive landscape. Businesses are looking for actionable intelligence, dependability in mission critical scenarios, and tailored devices and applications. In combination with higher IoT-platform layers, RTLS is supporting the solution to that all. This is especially true with COVID-19, where contact tracing and knowing where everyone is has become crucial to preventing unwanted facility shutdowns. RTLS provides actionable intelligence that creates a safer environment, optimizes processes, accelerates business results, and offers businesses a big competitive advantage.  

What is an RTLS? 

A real-time location system (RTLS) is a combination of hardware and software that is used to provide automatic location tracking and management of an organization's assets. It enables the tracking of people, vehicles, animals, and objects within manufacturing facilities, warehouses, offices, underground mines, farmland and more. Within this system, small identification tags are attached to people or assets. These tags blink at regular intervals, so that fixed readers or anchors can receive and report on their indoor or outdoor location within a defined space. While the components used in each individual RTLS can vary depending on performance requirements like accuracy and range, most location-tracking solutions share these core components: tags, anchors, software, modules and transceivers. 

How To Get Started With Real-Time Location Systems & Chirp

Tags 

RTLS tags are wireless devices that are equipped to people, assets, equipment, inventory or mobile objects to find their location. This can be an ID badge on a person, a small tag attached to the ear of a cow or an asset tag on a piece of merchandise. Since tags are attached to assets, they help track the part of the system that’s always moving. RTLS tags send signals that are data encoded at continuous intervals to fixed RTLS readers or anchors, which helps the system determine their position.

Anchors 

RTLS anchors are the fixed readers that detect and locate signals from RTLS tags and devices. To accurately determine a tag’s location in real-time, each anchor within its communication range will read and can timestamp the received signals, and then share this information with the location engine to determine the tag’s position.  

Software 

RTLS software has two main components: RTLS installer tools and the location engine. The RTLS installer tools function as the setup, troubleshooting and maintenance interface of the RTLS. The location engine extracts sensor data from the RTLS hardware (such as tags and anchors) to be able to create coordinates of an asset’s location, which can be connected to IoT platforms to be analyzed for actionable intelligence. This includes integrations with systems like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES).

Modules

When it comes to the transceivers that are in every tag or anchor, sometimes organizations prefer to buy them pre-built to reduce complexity and save time. RTLS modules are these pre-built transceivers and help organizations build their own tailored RTLS-enabled devices. That way, an organization can easily integrate a module into their own proprietary tag design, activating real-time location tracking capabilities with hardware that meets their unique needs.

Transceivers 

RTLS transceiver chips are essentially the core technology of an RTLS-enabled device. They belong inside RTLS hardware, and they power the wireless communication that makes real-time locationing possible. The chips serve as the starting point for the development of custom RTLS devices, which allows organizations to design their own tailored RTLS devices such as tags.

Why RTLS? 

According to Gartner, by 2025, 40% of new IoT “things” will know their location, up from under 10% today. It’s becoming increasingly important to have data that will help you make better business decisions and give you a competitive edge. We spend over 80% of our time indoors where conventional location technologies like GPS don't reach, so we need indoor intelligence more than ever. A chirp-enabled RTLS is particularly powerful because it extends those benefits to the outdoors as well, offering 360-degree visibility across all aspects of your facilities. Here are five top reasons to use a RTLS at your organization.

Top 5 Benefits of Using a RTLS

1. Locating and monitoring assets, vehicles, tools, products

Location awareness from RTLS is transforming the way businesses operate, because not only do we know what assets we have but where they are and when they move. This means being in control of how fast your assets are moving through the facility, if they’re being processed according to schedule, where your vehicles are on the premises, etc. Leveraging location helps boost productivity because you can track assets and personnel, identify potential bottlenecks, see how effectively your resources are being used and more. 

2. Guarding against equipment loss and theft   

Being able to track and know the location of your assets reduces equipment loss and theft which costs organizations millions of dollars every year. Previously, you could only track what was in your warehouse - but if anything was moved or taken, you had no way of knowing until it was too late. Now there’s no need to solely rely on inventory count because you can see exactly where each of your assets are and track them as they move.

3. Locating employees in the event of a distress call 

One of the biggest benefits of RTLS is safety, as being able to know where your employees are so you can help them in emergency situations. For example, if there is a fire in your building, you can quickly identify who is in immediate danger and direct them towards safety based on their location. First responders will also know where to go to rescue anyone that needs help, and you can be assured that no one is left behind. RTLS also helps in many other scenarios such as collision avoidance, evacuations, worker search and rescue, contact tracing and more. Many companies also have safety compliance rules that must be followed, and RTLS can assist in meeting those requirements.

4. Controlling access to equipment and assets 

RTLS can help you heighten your security to a new standard. The components of RTLS technology that allow organizations to track their assets also enable you to control if assets are allowed in certain locations on or within your facility. This kind of access control allows you to ensure unauthorized personnel do not enter hazardous or highly secure areas.  

5. Enhancing and streamlining operations and processes  

Being able to use the data from RTLS to improve processes can give organizations a huge competitive advantage. This could mean finding a faster route for your vehicles, understanding which machinery isn’t performing optimally, or mastering how your space is being used. Harnessing location data helps make more informed decisions, improve resource allocation, reduce costs, boost production speed and quality, as well as asset performance.

Under the Hood of a RTLS 

While certain technologies like mobile phones only use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for positioning, modern RTLS solutions leverage a variety of radio frequency & wireless technologies such as Ultra-Wideband (UWB)Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS), Infrared (IR) and Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID), in addition to Wi-Fi and BLE. They work by determining a device’s presence (is it in the building?), its proximity (what is it near within the building?) or position (what is its current location within the building?). While the type of RF chosen depends on individual needs, CSS is likely the most versatile among them. Here’s why CSS, also known as Chirp, might be a great option for you. 

What Makes Chirp Unique? 

Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS), also referred to as chirp, is a RF technology that offers unique advantages such as reduced power consumption, location accuracy of 1-2 meters, near real-time positioning and more. It stands out with its ability to function indoors and outdoors, as well as having a range longer than most RF technologies - up to 1000 meters. Because it requires less infrastructure, such as anchors, and can be used in a variety of different industries, it can lead to a great ROI.

Chirp's Key Differentiators 

Chirp stands out in many ways, but especially because of its long range for positioning. Because it can range from 10-500 meters and up to 1000 meters, it allows for a lot of flexibility for its users. In comparison, other RF technologies like UWB, Bluetooth, & Wi-Fi are typically used between 0-50 meters, and up to 500 meters. Chirp is also distinct in its ability to operate both indoors and outdoors, with no costly spectrum licensing required. This is helpful in situations such as tracking the locations of certain vehicles or livestock.  

Chirp’s other differentiators include having strong protection against interference. In many situations, certain buildings or surroundings would get in the way and disconnect the communication link. But since chirp operates on a lower frequency, if offers reliability in a variety of scenarios. It also consumes very little power and serves as a cost-effective option among RF technologies. This is because it requires less infrastructure than other technologies, another reason why it can often lead to higher returns.

Chirp's Benefits - The Cheat Sheet  

  • Location accuracy of 1-2 meters 
  • Reduced power consumption  
  • Indoor and outdoor support 
  • Longer range than most RF technologies - accessibility up to 1000 meters 
  • Near real-time positioning 
  • Protection against radio frequency interference 
  • Low cost, great ROI 
  • Less anchors required for deployments  

Industry-Specific Applications for Chirp 

Manufacturing, Warehousing and Logistics 

RTLS allows organizations to instantly track the location and movement of assets, equipment and inventories across manufacturing, warehousing and logistics. Tracking the location of tools and work orders allows for the optimization of maintenance, and creates real-time visibility across the facility which makes it easier to identify and execute ways to improve efficiency.

Healthcare  

Location awareness creates real-time visibility in hospitals to quickly locate patients in distress or find care providers. Users can use RTLS to leverage geofences, proximity detection, and alerts to find lost patients or identify the potential spread of an infection. It also helps in administrative scenarios when patient flow and wait times are tracked, because it leads to actionable insights that enhance the quality of care. Chirp-enabled technology also consumes very little power and was designed for low-power applications in particular, allowing hospitals to build RTLS solutions with affordable and efficient hardware options. 

Mining and Construction  

In mining and construction sites where safety is of utmost importance, RTLS allows organizations to monitor the real-time location of workers in risky situations. Users can create a safer industrial environment with real-time visibility, and geofenced safety zones. In an emergency, users can send an alert to any workers who need to evacuate in a particular area, or set a man-down alarm. Because Chirp can enable positioning over long ranges, it provides accurate, real-time locationing across factories and underground mines. 

Livestock  

There are many benefits to using Chirp for livestock tracking, since Chirp’s range can be extended into both indoor and outdoor areas. With RTLS, you can search and find the location of livestock in real-time, integrate location and health data to track the wellbeing of animals and therefore be proactive when an animal is found to be at a temperature that could be harmful to their health. This location data can help detect early signs of infection – for example, if a cow is resting or laying for longer hours than normal.  

HOW TO GET STARTED WITH RTLS? 

Interested in how you can get started with RTLS? Watch our webinar on the top five hurdles companies new to RTLS often face and how to overcome them, here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Norman is the Product Manager at Inpixon, with over 5 years of experience at the company. Norman holds a PHD in Computer Science with a focus on wireless sensor networks. With experience in product marketing, product management, and design of ranging and RTLS products, he is a core member in refining and innovating Inpixon’s RTLS product portfolio.