What’s the difference between real-time and near real-time positioning and asset tracking?

June 2, 2021 by Mark Wilson
Read in 9 Minutes

In many situations, organizations think they need real-time processing from positioning sensors. The truth is that in many scenarios, near-real time will suffice and can even meet needs more effectively. Whether it’s tracking equipment in a hospital, or even tracking moving vehicles in manufacturing facilities, there are different use cases where real-time and near real-time thrive.  

Real-time vs. near real-time 

While the absolute definition is debated, the answer is quite simple: real-time is instant, whereas near real-time is delayed (whether that’s by a few milliseconds or a few hours).  

This can get confusing as having real-time is close to impossible when it comes to sensors and security. In a microsecond, a sensor can detect where an asset is located, then there will be a delay (of a few milliseconds) for the sensor to determine where the asset is at that point at time. To then have the sensor deliver that information to the system, which displays that information to the end user -- It takes time to get this information.  

When would you need real-time vs. near real-time? 

The different use cases between real-time and near real-time can include:  

  • Collision avoidance: if you want to track vehicles that are moving at high speed, and you want to implement a system that helps these vehicles avoid crashing into each other, then you will have strict real-time requirements. We almost always recommend using two-way ranging because you only need the relative distance of the vehicles to each other, not the absolute distance. With ranging, it’s as close to real-time as you can get.  
  • Personnel tracking: This can include employees in an office or other guests in the building. If someone is entering a part of the office they shouldn’t be entering, you still want this information to be available quickly (within a few seconds), but it’s not as strict as collision avoidance where you’re looking at milliseconds. 
  • Asset tracking: This can include a situation such as a hospital when certain teams want to locate expensive equipment quickly. It may be sufficient to know where it was half an hour ago because it might not be moved that frequently.  

What real-time tech can organizations use? 

One option is using a locator tag, either fixed to an asset or portable tags that can be carried by personnel, for real-time location systems (RTLS). These are designed to work in conjunction with anchors to deliver accuracy of just centimeters to locate employees, visitors, or assets in near real-time to support a variety of safety and security use cases.  

UWB Tags, Receivers and Two-Way Ranging 

UWB is among the most precise as it offers higher accuracy and range with lower power consumption in comparison to most other RTLS technologies.  

In our collision avoidance example above, two-way ranging is ideal because by implementing a receiving ultra-wideband (UWB) device, you would be able to measure the distance between each vehicle to get as close to the millisecond as possible. 

Visualizing real-time location data with indoor maps 

The role of indoor maps for being able to process real-time location data is an important one. In addition to serving as a wayfinding platform, indoor maps leverage business rules, localization and the IoT to enable users to visualize spatial data, creating real-time indoor location intelligence. With our indoor mapping platform, any system can be enhanced to display data in the context of an indoor map. 

Near real-time sensors 

Other sensor technologies (such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Cellular) are also capable of detecting devices in near real time, often with a delay of only a few seconds. These technologies, although often not as precise as UWB, have the added benefit of working passively and without the need for a ‘tag’ on the item or person being tracked. 

Utilizing this technology can improve operations and keep your employees safe. With the many benefits involved, companies are continuing to include various indoor intelligence technology to meet their needs. 

Schedule a 20-minute meeting with our sales team to learn how you can utilize sensors to meet your organizational needs. 

Mark is the VP of Engineering Delivery at Inpixon.