Learn more about Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS) and how this flexible radio-frequency technology offers a unique performance mix of accuracy, range, and reliability to create unparalleled indoor positioning and asset tracking — especially in industrial-grade environments.
What is Chirp (CSS) Technology?
Chirp, or Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS), is a long-range radio-frequency technology for wireless communication that can be leveraged to detect and track the location of people, assets, and devices both in and outdoors, across large-scale facilities. Its long-range performance with high-reliability, strong resistance to radio interference and low-power consumption, make chirp uniquely suited for applications in large, noisy environments, like industrial facilities. Like other communication protocols including UWB and Bluetooth, chirp can be used to transmit data between devices through radio waves. It does so by using a wideband modulation technique, that creates linear frequency modulated signals also known as chirps.
Chirp was designed to operate in the 2.45 GHz ISM band and belongs to the same category as other Spread Spectrum technologies. Originally purposed in military applications to help ensure secure and reliable communication more resistant to detection, jamming and interference, Spread Spectrum methods spread radio signals across a wider range of frequencies, producing signals with wider bandwidths while still preserving the initial signal power. Chirp technology increases the bandwidth of signals to multiples of the value stated in the “Shannon-Hartley” theorem, helping it enable communication more robust against interference. There are two types of chirp pulses implemented – upchirps and downchirps. For wireless communication, chirp pulses are dispatched from a transceiver to a receiver, or amongst transceivers that can both transmit and receive communications with one or more devices at the same time. Receiving devices analyze the patterns of incoming pulses and translate them into data. While this allows devices to reliably send data over long-ranges, chirps can also be used to accurately sense the location of devices. This makes it possible for chirp-enabled devices, such as RTLS anchors to pinpoint a transmitting device, such as an asset tracking tag, find its precise location and in certain applications enable location-aware communication and services.
In addition to being used by RTLS for real-time positioning of devices, like tracking tags, chirp technology can also enable two-way ranging and distance monitoring, as well as wireless communication applications. Through these types of applications, chirp technology helps power location-aware solutions that enable a multitude of use cases including asset tracking, collision avoidance, vehicle tracking, industrial automation, worker search and rescue and more, in a variety of types of facilities and industrial environments like factories, underground mines, warehouses and more.
History of Chirp Technology
Chirp pulses can be found all throughout our natural world, used by animals like dolphins and bats for communication and sensing. These same pulses were first adapted and patented into technological applications in the 1940s by a Professor Hüttmann, who used chirp for radar applications. The concept of using chirp spread spectrum in radar applications was further developed by Sidney Darlington, a lifetime IEEE fellow, in 1947, who’s research yielded pulse compression radar. In 1996, Canon continued the development of chirp technology, patenting chirp pulses for data transmission in fiber optic systems. Since the 1990s chirp technologies have seen continued advancements and improvements. Much of this was driven by further investigation and patents by nanotron technologies, a company that is now part of the Inpixon family. Today, Inpixon is the leader in chirp technology, providing chirp-enabled solutions that power real-time location tracking, two-way ranging and bi-directional communication applications that help organizations leverage location-awareness to enhance safety, efficiency and accelerate business results. Inpixon offers chirp-enabled RTLS solutions including flexible, long-range location tracking tags, anchors and its proprietary Inpixon nanoLOC location chip which serves as the foundation of many chirp technology locationing solutions worldwide.
Chirp's Unique Advantages
Chirp has many unique advantages that make it a flexible option suitable in deployments where long-range positioning, high-reliability and low-power performance requirements are of special importance.
Due to high system gain, as well as resistance to interference and multipath fading, CSS delivers its exceptional range for positioning (up to 500 m), even in noisy industrial facilities. This range extends both indoors and outdoors, offering solutions that work in both environments with no costly spectrum licensing required. Its long-range communication range and high channel capacity, paired with its accurate location determinacy between 1-2 m and very low latency, enable real-time locationing and two-way ranging/communication applications with a special performance mix many other common RF technologies can’t achieve.
Chirp-enabled technology also consumes very little power and was designed for low-power applications in particular, allowing you to build RTLS solutions with affordable and efficient hardware options, such as tracking tags with embedded batteries that can operate for multiple years without needing to be recharged or replaced.
Due to higher bandwidth chirp pulses and CSMA support, chirp-based systems are highly resistant to RF interference including both narrowband and broadband disturbances. Frequency spreading of chirps also make chirp systems highly resistant against multipath fading. With most narrowband RF technologies, the original signal from a transmitter will typically reach a receiver with several reflections from buildings or other environmental surroundings. This often results in frequencies being amplified or attenuated, as well as destructive interference which may cause a disconnect in the communication link of a narrowband system. CSS is different, because the energy contained in transmitted symbols is distributed uniformly over the bandwidth, meaning the communication link will not be disconnected when the interfering entity is not blocking the whole bandwidth of the channel. Unlike other RF technologies, chirp is also resistant to the doppler effect which causes a frequency shift of the transmitted signals. Its wide bandwidth nature also helps to enhance the quality of reception with almost any antenna position. These unique qualities allow chirp to deliver high performance applications in noisy environments like industrial facilities where reliability and robustness against disturbances are required.
CSS Signals can also be used for time-of-arrival (ToA) estimation and time difference of arrival (TDoA) position calculation, delivering accurate system performance for scalable solutions capable of supporting thousands of concurrently tracked entities. Chirp solutions also offer cost-effective hardware and require less infrastructure than other technologies, delivering high ROI and further adding to its distinct ability to offer highly scalable enterprise deployments.