Real-time location systems can locate and track any person or item within a specified RF coverage area. Choosing the right tracking technology can help companies track their employees and equipment. This article focuses on the types of real-time location systems and some related applications.

What are Real-Time Location Systems?

Real-Time Location Systems
Real-Time Location Systems

A Real-Time Location System (RTLS) can also be called a Real-Time Tracking System. It is mainly used to identify and track specific targets through a series of systems that can locate and manage assets. The targets they track can be people or objects. It can track the time of assets and rely on different applications to use that data differently. A typical example: some applications only provide a timestamp of when an asset passed through a certain area. Other RTLS applications may need to gain real-time and more granular visibility.

Most RTLS are embedded in products like smartphones or some navigation systems. RTLS consists of a wireless node that transmits the signal and a reader that receives it. It is mainly based on wireless technologies such as Bluetooth, RFID, GPS, etc.

RTLS can be used in several industries. These industries can be healthcare, military, retail, and entertainment. Some industries with specific applications, such as manufacturing and mining, are also applicable.

How does a Real-Time Location System Work?

The specific mode of operation of the real-time location systems varies depending on the system selected. It all has in common that all RTLS utilizes a network of connected hardware and software components. They will track the location of people or objects within a specified area. Most RTLSs will rely on RFID technology.

These radio frequency technologies can be UWB, Bluetooth, WiFi, and RFID. They can perform wireless communication between a set of transmitting. And receiving devices or in a device that is both transmitting and receiving. They mainly do determine the location of the target. When the tag emits a radio signal, the receiver immediately receives it and sends it to the server. The RTLS software in the background will process it synchronously. When the anchor receives a signal, it uses triangulation or other similar methods to calculate the exact location of the tag. This calculation is done by a designated location engine, part of the RTLS software.

Most trucks, people, pets, and industrial tracking applications use RTLS. Authorized users can generally obtain location data of marked items through a local computer or cloud platform.

How Far is the Tracking Range of the Real-Time Location Systems?

The range of a real-time location systems can vary depending on the underlying RF technology and deployment type. Some users need accuracy in tracking within a narrow area, such as the exact location of a specific part as it moves down an assembly line. Some users need a broader range to track assets such as containers, equipment, or people in certain hard-to-reach areas.

The range varies depending on the real-time location systems used. Chirp and WiFi-based systems can provide remote access to more than 300 meters. The other technologies, such as UWB and BLE, can track items only to a limited extent.

What are the Types of RTLS?

Many technologies can implement RTLS applications. When implementing RTLS, choosing the right technology based on the requirements is critical.

Passive RFID

Simple Passive UHF RFID Tags
Simple Passive UHF RFID Tags

Passive Ultra High Frequency (UHF) RFID offers ways to create RTLS efficiency. We can do this in the easiest way possible. That is by covering choke points at the entrance/exit of a particular room or building. We installed an RFID reader and antenna at the location of the blocking point and used RFID tags to tag this asset. This operation allows us to get the item position at a specific read time. We can also achieve zonal coverage by dividing the area and strategically placing RFID antennas. The RFID antennas in that area will send signals to the tagged asset. Passive UHF RFID, on the other hand, uses the same tagging methods as other RTLS technologies. They can both determine the location of a tagged asset by installing antennas every few meters and taking many measurements. They can even employ more granular tagging methods within the tracking area.

  • Applications: Supply chain tracking, Inventory tracking, Asset tracking
  • Suitable for: Local area coverage, Choke point coverage, Regional coverage
  • Advantages: Relatively inexpensive tags, Standardized technology
  • Disadvantages: Susceptible to metal and liquid interference, Multi-path environments

Active RFID

Active UHF RFID tags are mostly used in outdoor environments
Active UHF RFID tags are mostly used in outdoor environments

Our common active UHF RFID is mostly used for RTLS in large outdoor environments. Active RFID has a read range of up to hundreds of meters. Unlike passive RFID tags, active RFID tags do not require a reader to send a signal to obtain energy. It contains a battery inside, allowing continuous signal broadcast. The user can set the interval length between tag broadcasts according to the manufacturer’s options.

The tag sent its unique ID number and programmed data information to the receiver. This data information can be signal strength or environmental measurements. When a reader installed at a specified location receives an active RFID tag signal, it records its information and location. It then synchronizes the location information and uploads it to a host or networked/cloud database.

  • Applications: Vehicle tracking, Mining
  • Suitable for: Area coverage, Local area coverage
  • Advantages: Extremely rugged tagging options, Telemetry options
  • Disadvantages: Expensive, No standard for active RFID

Low Power Bluetooth

People often use low-power Bluetooth to achieve real-time location functions
People often use low-power Bluetooth to achieve real-time location functions

Most people use low-power Bluetooth (BLE) for real-time location functions. Based on user settings, BLE tags can propagate signals to the surrounding area without interruption. Any Bluetooth-enabled electronic device can receive these signals. Some common Bluetooth-enabled devices are Bluetooth receivers, beacons, and smart devices. The user can use a Bluetooth receiver to set up the RTLS using BLE or a beacon mounted in a fixed location with specific coordinates.

After the user sets up the RTLS function of BLE, it will run automatically. The BLE transponder enters the specified reception range. The transponder will communicate its location information directly to the receiver. Next, the receiver will send the information to the BLE gateway via WiFi. The BLE gateway will record its location information synchronously and send the data to the host or networked/cloud database.

  • Applications: Location tagging, Asset tracking, Medical sensors
  • Suitable for: Blocking point coverage, Area coverage
  • Advantages: Standardized technology, Works with Bluetooth devices, Telemetry options
  • Disadvantages: Labels are in considerable demand, High cost

Global Positioning System (GPS)

GPS has a powerful real-time location function
GPS has a powerful real-time location function

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is also known as the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). It has a fairly wide coverage area, almost all over the world.GPS gets its name from the NAVSTAR GPS satellite system. It is the most well-known satellite system used for GNSS navigation or positioning in the United States. In most cases, one can use GNSS tags to tag assets for real-time positioning capabilities. These tags will likewise have WiFi, Bluetooth, or cellular connection technology.

Satellites orbiting the Earth non-stop will transmit signals to GNSS tags or smart devices via radio waves. The emitted signals will carry information about their orbital position and the time of a precise atomic clock. The tag receives information from these satellites. It also calculates the tag’s position by matching this data to global coordinates. This coordinate information is sent to the host computer via an assistive technology on the tag (e.g., Bluetooth).

  • Applications: Positioning, Navigation
  • Suitable for: Local area coverage, Global coverage (up to 98%)
  • Advantages: Only mark the cost, Telemetry options
  • Disadvantages: High tagging cost, Limited outdoor tracking

Infrared Radiation

Infrared detector
Infrared detector

The electromagnetic spectrum of infrared radiation is quite low and lower than the visible light that the human eye can detect. It has certain limitations. For example, for some thick solid objects, infrared radiation cannot pass directly through. However, it is also suitable for use in various areas and rooms. When the infrared tag is used with technologies such as WiFi or Bluetooth, it can provide considerable accuracy over a wide area. The infrared body contains a small battery that transmits a signal modulated by its unique ID into a designated room or area. Users can install the infrared receiver in a fixed location for receiving data information from the tag according to their needs. The receiver will connect via WiFi or LAN and forward this data information to the host computer or database.

  • Applications: Infrared radar, Infrared detector
  • Suitable for: Area coverage
  • Advantages: low cost, High accuracy
  • Disadvantages: Multi-path issues, No standards

Real-Time Location System Application

Emergency Call

Enterprises can monitor employee real-time location with RTLS badges
Enterprises can monitor employee real-time location with RTLS badges

Businesses can track the location of employees during emergency evacuations with the RTLS badge. In an emergency, the muster system automatically records arriving employees as safe. In this crisis, emergency managers don’t need to rush through a roll call to get a list of people who may be at risk. They can provide first responders with real-time location information of at-risk employees. They will assist them in rescues.

Patient Monitoring

Heart Rate Detector
Heart Rate Detector

The speed at which data is processed is critical to the healthcare industry—the difference between life and death. People can use real-time location systems in patient monitoring systems (e.g., heart rate monitors). The data detected by the system helps clinicians ensure patient safety and health. When a patient’s life is in danger, the system will sound an alarm. The physician will be the first to arrive and provide assistance.

Navigation

Navigation is a real-time location software that we often use
Navigation is a real-time location software that we often use

A common real-time location system we see is navigation. It provides information on how to get from point A to point B regarding location. GPS, maps, and mobile cellular technology are even more powerful. It can provide more complex navigation services.

Process Control Systems

Process Control Systems
Process Control Systems

It is suitable for industrial applications where continuous production is not interrupted. These systems monitor data and processes for troubleshooting. They help companies maintain product quality and improve performance. Most companies in the oil and gas industry choose to use process control systems. It allows companies to be more efficient and safely run their facilities. It also helps companies reduce losses due to downtime.

Asset Tracking

Employees are able to find the items they want by using the right asset tracking technology
Employees are able to find the items they want by using the right asset tracking technology

Monitoring and tracking the movement of your equipment and tools is an essential function of RTLS. With the right tracking technology, you can find tools left behind by workers in large facilities. It also keeps equipment safe and ensures no equipment leaves its designated area.

With the advancement of science, there are numerous options for real-time location systems. People can choose tracking technologies such as Bluetooth, RFID, and optical to determine the location of people or items. It provides a more convenient way for people to locate their location. It has many benefits for various industries. We will see it in more places soon.

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