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When & How Bluetooth Beacon Technology Works For Indoor Positioning

Brian Ray
April 27, 2018

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is one of the best technologies available for transmitting location-based messages at relatively high speed through a low power budget. One of its benefits is its simplicity—all you need to start using Bluetooth beacon technology for positioning is a BLE transmitter and either a reader or an access point that receives and communicates location to a gateway.

Below, let’s take a closer look at the two types of Bluetooth technology ideal for indoor positioning:

1. Proximity-Based Beacon Positioning

Proximity-based beaconing is the most common type of Bluetooth beacon technology. A proximity system uses Bluetooth readers that actively look for BLE tags in their area. Once this reader “sees” a tag, it’s able to communicate that tag’s identification and received signal strength indication (RSSI) to a server. The server then uses an algorithm to analyze this data and determine the tagged asset’s location based on its proximity to the closest reader.

The advantage of proximity-based Bluetooth positioning technology is that it will work right out of the box with any existing Bluetooth 4.0 tag. You simply have to filter out the data you report using whatever UUID you choose (like iBeacon indoor positioning system or Eddystone). The disadvantage with this type of system is that you’re likely to need many connected readers to get a higher degree of location accuracy. Additionally, the amount of raw data sent to the gateway is significant—even after you’ve filtered with a UUID—and can cause bouncing between locations and slow location updates.

2. Intelligent Active RFID

In contrast to proximity-based beacon positioning, where all raw location data is sent to the gateway, and an algorithm processes those readings to find a tagged asset’s location. But in intelligent active RFID—another form of Bluetooth positioning—the location positioning takes place locally with the tag, and the tag transmits the data to the gateway. In other words, instead of having the tags beacon out their location to a reader, the tag scans its environment periodically for nearby fixed reference-point beacons. The tags are smart (hence the intelligent descriptor) so they calculate their own location based on data taken from the nearest reference points. If the tagged asset has moved since the last scan, it transmits its location to the gateway; if it hasn’t moved, it doesn’t transmit anything.

One advantage to intelligent active RFID is the battery life of reference-points and tags. In proximity-based positioning, the reader almost always needs to be plugged in because of the amount of data it sends to the gateway. But intelligent active RFID doesn’t involve beacon communication, which means the reader itself can have a long battery life. Also unlike proximity-based positioning, intelligent active RFID doesn’t require continuous transmission of information—which saves battery life on the tag as well.

Both proximity-based beacon positioning and intelligent active RFID systems are ideal for indoor location positioning. (And in fact, both systems can also work well for defined area outdoor asset tracking that doesn’t require GPS or WiFi scanning to access location.) Below, we’ve outlined five use cases in which Bluetooth beacon technology can be utilized.

Bluetooth Beacon Technology: 5 Indoor Use Cases

1. Construction

Whether you’re an equipment rental company, a contractor, or a subcontractor, Bluetooth beacon technology can come in handy. For example, a Bluetooth beacon tracker can be used to keep track of prefab pieces around your construction site. Site managers can also use them to immediately identify when a tagged item is moved off-site after hours, and determine if the location the tool was left at made it an easier target for theft.

2. Manufacturing

Bluetooth beacon technology enables manufacturing organizations to know immediately and precisely where materials are stored, thereby decreasing waste and improving operational efficiency. Further, manufacturers can monitor environmental conditions—temperature, humidity, shock, and vibration—to ensure that sensitive goods are handled and stored correctly.

3. Logistics

Managing the flow of raw and finished goods through your supply chain is a challenge. Bluetooth beacon technology enables you to efficiently track packages and goods as they move through your supply chain—costing you up to 10 times less than alternative tracking technologies.

4. Healthcare

Not only can Bluetooth beacon technology provide hospitals and healthcare organizations a way to monitor the location of tagged equipment and personnel, it also can provides required evidence for legal compliance, offer insight into inventory management, and answer financial queries.

5. Oil & Gas

The oil and gas industry has numerous uses for Bluetooth beacon technology. For example, refineries can monitor the location of personnel for their safety, and also ensure that their personnel can alway find pallet jacks and other important equipment.

Bluetooth Beacon Technology Vs. Alternative Location Positioning Technologies

If you’re considering Bluetooth beacon technology for your use case, you’re probably also looking at a few alternatives. Take a look at how Bluetooth compares to passive RFID, ultra wide-band, and WiFi below.

Bluetooth Vs. Passive RFID

Passive RFID uses simple, battery-free tags that receive energy over the air from high-powered readers. The tag’s collector antenna picks up on that energy through brute force, and transmits back to the reader using a different frequency. It’s very similar to proximity-based beacon technology when it comes to accuracy and infrastructure requirements, but passive RFID is rarely used for positioning and is more frequently used for inventory management.

Bluetooth Vs. Ultra Wide-Band (UWB)

Ultra wide-band is not typically the first choice for those hoping to do indoor location positioning because of the amount of infrastructure required, the complex installation, and the high cost of tags. Additionally, it requires a great deal of sensitive equipment that must be maintained regularly. Bluetooth beacon technology is far simpler in all these areas.

Bluetooth Vs. WiFi

Some organizations prefer WiFi because you can use an existing network (if it supports location positioning), which means you won’t have to install new infrastructure. But due to the high cost of the tags and the high power consumption of both tags and readers, it’s used less frequently for indoor positioning than Bluetooth beacon positioning systems.

Have questions about how Bluetooth beacon technology could work for your use case?

Contact us. We’re happy to answer any questions you have and give you some additional details on whether the AirFinder intelligent active RFID system is a good fit for you.

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