September 8, 2015

If you’re a wireless product developer, you’ve probably thought about adding position and location as a critical part of your product roadmap.

Internet of Things (IoT) and M2M products and applications are enabled and enhanced by position. There are six or so categories of indoor location technologies (video cameras, WiFi, GPS and BLE beacons and sensors, magnetic field energy, audio, LED lighting, as well as low-orbiting satellites and cell tower triangulation (Opus Research, pp. 13-14)) and hundreds of companies operating within those categories.

Opus Research also estimates (see “In Building Location Services…” below) that the indoor location and people tracking market could be as large as $1.6B by 2018, spanning a continuum of products and applications.

Each application has a specific set of requirements which prefers one or more of the emergent indoor location technologies.

For example, for retail, where the objective is to provide location-relevant content to a mobile device, proximity detection and geo-fencing are good enough. Retail applications point to WiFi or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), on the lower end of the accuracy spectrum, where either existing infrastructure can be used, or low cost / low-power infrastructure (think iBeacons) can easily be deployed.

On the high end of the accuracy spectrum is ultra wideband (UWB) ranging / RTLS, which uses high-bandwidth RF signals to precisely measure the distance between a mobile sensor and a network of ‘anchor nodes.’ Applications for UWB include tracking of athletes and high precision asset location, among others.

Each of these RF approaches offers unique benefits and tradeoffs. It makes sense to understand their pros and cons before diving into a location-enabled wireless, IoT or M2M application.

The following news roundup demonstrates the wide range of potential applications for indoor positioning, from the growth of the RTLS market to technology that will help your Roomba perform and the strengths and weaknesses of GPS, UWB and WiFi.

If you’re a product developer, the challenge is finding the right technology for your application and getting it to perform in the installed environment. The BluFlux team would welcome the chance to chat with you about your project.

Ultra-wideband radio yields accurate indoor location
Mickael Voit, Marketing Manager, DecaWave, Electronic Products
“Location has become a central facet of mobile applications. Many applications that are not related to mapping or navigation are using location to enhance the service they deliver. But, location awareness has, until recently, not been easy for electronic devices. GPS chips only work outdoors and location positioning indoors, using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, are hard to implement and are usually not accurate enough to be useful. But now Ultra-Wideband (UWB) radio, operating at 3.5 to 10.0 GHz, is enabling highly-accurate location awareness in electronic devices.”

In-Building Location Services: The Next Big Bluetooth App
Bernard Cole, EE Times
“…advances in indoor location and positioning technologies, combined with the growing ubiquity of Bluetooth and WiFi-enabled smartphones, is fueling a revolution in indoor “people tracking” by commercial enterprises such as large retail stores and shopping malls.”

Wi-Fi challenges Bluetooth for the beacon market
“In 2005, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced that it was working with other industry groups to develop a high-speed mode based on a technology called “ultra-wideband.” However, ultra-wideband development ran into some hitches and the Bluetooth SIG concluded that it made more sense to simply adopt the proven and popular Wi-Fi technology for its high-speed mode. Given that history, it seems reasonable to ask why the Wi-Fi Alliance didn’t choose a proven and popular technology, Bluetooth Smart, as its proximity engagement technology.”

Tencent Strikes Strategic Partnership With Indoor Mapping Startup Sensewhere
Catherine Shu, TechCrunch
“Sensewhere’s technology provides location information in areas where there is little access to satellite GPS data. Instead, it relies on signals like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The company said Tencent’s investment will allow it to quickly scale up the development of its indoor location database because it plans to integrate its software with all major apps made by Tencent and its affiliates.”

Startup Wants Better IoT Radios
Rich Merritt, EE Times
“For its part, PsiKick is designing an ultrawideband transceiver into an upcoming IoT node chip geared to consume a total of less than 30 microwatts. But UWB comes with a number of tradeoffs in potential interference, lack of compatibility and relatively low data rates.”

This Indoor Location System Could Help Your Roomba Find Its Way home-smartphone
John Wenz, Popular Mechanics

“If you’ve seen a Roomba crash around in search of a path, you’ve seen how imprecise location finding can be. To shrink the margin of error down to scales unseen in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, Pozyx uses ultra-wideband radio waves, which transmit low-power signals across various frequencies.”

Estimote Creates An Indoor Location System Using Beacons and “Nearables”
John Biggs, TechCrunch
“The dream of indoor location sensing has always been just that – a dream. The difficulty of Wi-Fi tracking and other technologies has made it hard for anyone – from businesses to regular users – to figure out where they were in a venue. But the folks at Estimote, a Polish beacon company, may have just cracked the code.”

Real-Time Location System market to grow at CAGR 37.41% between 2015-2019
“An RTLS is a technology that is used to find, track, manage, and identify the geographical position of a target on a real-time basis. It can track the location of objects in real time with the help of nodes or tags and readers.”

Indoor positioning: Are we there yet?
Gadi Lenz, ITProPortal
“The simplest method is transmitting and reflecting a pulse (RF, light, ultrasound). This reflected pulse is picked up by a receiver and the time between transmission and reception is measured. Since the pulse speed is known (speed of light for RF and light, speed of sound in air for ultrasonic) the distance can be calculated. Seems simple but if the transmission is in all directions (omnidirectional antenna) then your reflected pulse can come from anywhere on a circle as all points on a circle are the same distance from its centre where the radar is located.”

Repeat after me: Location, location, location
Guy Daniels, TelecomTV
“…increasing activity around indoor maps, and indoor positioning technology via Bluetooth beacons or WiFi, will enable the rise of indoor [location-based services], including proximity-based advertising on mobile devices.”

How Many Meters Away From the Coffee Machine? Indoor Positioning System
Richard Smith, Business 2 Community
“Mobile is ubiquitous. Contextual awareness regarding the ecosystem where mobile operates is the need of the hour. Indoor Positioning systems (IPS) have been there for a while now. They are complex because of the multiple technologies and integration involved but the business value they can create is tremendous.”