Advantages of using Ultra Wideband (UWB) technology for Indoor Positioning

Date: August 20, 2018

RTLS or ‘Real-time Locating Systems’ is the term widely associated with Indoor Positioning. In simple term, RTLS can be defined as the ‘GPS of Indoor Positioning’. RTLS is usually deployed to locate and track objects or people within confined regions like hospitals, airports, shopping malls etc.

This article is intended to give you some valid arguments on why Ultra Wideband (UWB) technology is best suited for an RTLS application. So, you should read this article if you are thinking of installing a real-time location tracking system in your organization or you already have one which you are considering to replace with a more efficient one or even if you are just curious about the technology.

Not sure if you need a real-time location tracking system? This article should help you decide.

First thing first, let us first understand why GPS is not suitable for Indoor Positioning.

Why GPS is not an answer to Indoor Positioning?

GPS is our lifesaver. It’s one of those techniques which has long back has gained acceptance as a part and parcel of our lives. It undoubtedly comes handy for locating an unknown place, navigating our way through an unknown route. If you have used GPS multiple times, you must have faced situations where your GPS couldn’t differentiate between lanes which are a few meters apart. That’s because GPS accuracy is limited to 5 meters at the best possible scenario. This accuracy is further hindered by atmospheric conditions, obstacles etc.

This was just the horizontal accuracy, vertical is even worse. The probability of getting an accurate spatial coordinate with GPS is too low to consider using it in indoor positioning. GPS signals get further weaker inside a closed building.

GPS still is the best when it comes to outdoor positioning, but we must embrace the newer technologies for our indoor applications. These technologies are - RFID, Wifi, Bluetooth Low Energy, Zigbee and Ultra Wideband (UWB).

We are already familiar with Bluetooth, so why not use Bluetooth Low Energy? Here’s why not -

When and when not to use BLE/WiFi/Zigbee?

BLE has gained huge popularity since the introduction of iBeacon technology by Apple in 2013. When it comes to ‘proximity detection’, iBeacon serves well by sensing whether a device is within the range of the beacon or not. It can even tell whether an object is ‘close’ or ‘far’ by measuring the signal strength. But, the catch here is that a low signal strength wouldn’t always mean that an object is ‘far’, it can also mean that there’s some obstacle in the way.

Among all the available technologies, BLE is the least expensive one. It requires fewer devices and is energy efficient too. But, as good and easy to use it sounds, there are certain compromises you would have to make if you use BLE.

Its operating frequency is 2.4GHz, which is the most crowded band, thus, making it susceptible to interferences. In this regards, Zigbee and Wifi can also be ruled out, as they too operate at 2.4GHz.

Secondly, it uses RSSI (also used by Wifi and Zigbee) and Triangulation method for tracking and positioning. RSSI or ‘Received Signal Strength Indication’ doesn’t always give an accurate result as a result of path loss, fading and shadowing effect. Moreover, measurement of signal strength is also impacted by the relativity of the object.

Among BLE, Wifi and Zigbee, Wifi has the least accuracy of 5-10 meters and is a bit expensive compared to the other two. Moreover, it consumes significantly higher power than UWB.

Now, coming to the most important part. As has been mentioned earlier that, both Bluetooth and Wifi operates on the same frequency of 2.4GHz. And both utilize the technique of expanding a narrowband signal to a wideband signal, known as Spread Spectrum Signal Technology. It is needless to say that narrowband radio signals are highly prone to noise, multipath propagations etc.

There are some more imitations of BLE -

  • Beacon batteries have a finite life.
  • Blind spots are hard to eliminate.
  • Signals from Beacons can be easily reflected or absorbed, thus it’s data can be highly inaccurate.
  • BLE has a shorter range.
  • BLE cannot transmit a large amount of data.
  • Beacons can sometimes delay a device detection.

However, there are certain cases where BLE is the preferred solution. Bluetooth Standard’s widespread adaptation has made it possible for the BLE based solutions to be cheaper and easier to integrate with any existing systems. Rarely would you come across an everyday use electronic device which isn’t equipped with bluetooth technology. Thus, when there’s a smartphone or similar mobile device in the picture, BLE would be a preferred solution for that RTLS architecture.

Now, let’s talk about the most popular RTLS technology, i.e RFID.

Why RFID will soon be replaced by UWB?

RFID or ‘Radio Frequency Identification’ can be either passive or active. Passive RFID is the most commonly used and finds its applications in airport security checkpoints for luggage tracking or as an anti-theft measure in libraries etc. Due to its low range and large size, it is not a feasible option for live tracking. Due to the high presence of RF energy, RFID is also not a preferred option for the medical industry.

RFID readers have the ability to identify items from a quick scan, thus making it suitable for airport security checks and theft identification. As evident, with its low accuracy, the current RFID technology is not the right way to implement RTLS. Probably, when used alongside, Zigbee, it can act as one, which could further complicate the process.

“According to forecast reports from IndustryARC, UWB technology is expected to acquire the fastest growth due to the growing demand for personal & asset tracking. It is expected to surpass the other technologies by 2023.”

Ultra Wideband Technology to the rescue

There’s a reason for UWB to be slightly expensive as compared to its counterparts. UWB can give an accuracy of 5-10 cms. Isn’t accuracy the most important consideration in RTLS?

As per IEEE 802.15.4-2011 std., UWB technology uses short bursts of radio impulses with incisive rises & drops, making it easily measurable.

UWB’s operating frequency is 3.1 - 10.6GHz, thus, reducing the probability of any interference.

Another important aspect of UWB is that, it uses ToF (Time of Flight), TWR (Two Way Ranging), TDoA (Time Difference of Arrival), AoA (Angle of Arrival) techniques etc. to compute the position of the object, which enhances its precision and enables it to make exact measurements.

“Time of Flight (ToF) is the travel time of a radio signal from a single transmitter to a single receiver.”

Some notable properties of UWB are as follows -

  • High Precision
  • Less to no interference with other devices
  • Not prone to multipath propagation
  • Power efficient transceivers
  • Not prone to noise due to the nature of the signals in the form of a train of impulses

Our Work on RTLS using UWB

We are working on RTLS solutions for a number of industries. The key component of our RTLS solution is Decawave’s DW1000 UWB Transceiver.

For computing the precise location using the ToF, we have used Two-way Ranging (TWR) and Trilateration methods which can also be extended to for TDoA.

We have worked very closely with Decawave and have developed the firmware to enable communication with Decawave’s chipset.

If you are curious to know about our work on RTLS, visit our RTLS dedicated page.

Still have some doubts on the capabilities of UWB? Do not hesitate to write to us at marcom@pathpartnertech.com

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