Before you add location services to your application or within your organization, you have to be able to answer “What is RTLS?” and “What does RTLS stand for?”.

You can loosely define RTLS (real-time location system) technology as any type of system that provides you with the current location of a given object or individual. It doesn’t necessarily tell you where the object or individual has been or what route it has taken, but rather tells you where it is right now.

By using this technology, you can feed location information into a number workflows, including personnel and asset tracking, legal compliance, inventory management, and financial queries. Below, we’ll take a brief look into RTLS.

RTLS Technology

There are a number of different RTLS technologies and solutions to be aware of:

  • Infrared RTLS works the same way as your television remote. An infrared tag (i.e., a remote) placed on an asset flashes a unique infrared ID at a fixed interval, which is picked up by a ceiling-mounted infrared reader (i.e., a TV).
  • WiFi RTLS uses tags that transmit a WiFi signal to multiple access points throughout a building. Using differential-time-of-arrival methods, the receivers are able to locate the tag.
  • Ultra wide-band RTLS is the gold standard in terms of location precision. It uses small, low-powered tags that transmit an ultra wide-band signal using a spark-gap-style transmitter. This instantaneous burst of energy creates a very wide signal and transmits across gigahertz of spectrum.
  • Passive RFID is the type of technology you’ve seen in libraries and retail stores and uses simple, battery-free tags and high-power readers. The readers send out a low-frequency radio signal that transmits so much energy over the air that the tag’s collector antenna picks up its radio waves with brute force. The tag then transmits back using a different frequency, which the reader receives.
  • Proprietary wireless RTLS solutions use “homegrown” wireless technologies on the tag, the reader, and the network side.
  • Active Bluetooth-based RTLS uses battery-powered sensors that connect to various access points throughout a particular area and transfer that data to the cloud. These solutions use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to reduce system and operational costs and enable asset tracking.

As you can see, there’s a tradeoff for each of these solutions. Different technologies can answer use cases in different ways, at different price points, and with different system complexities—so you need to focus on what you’ll actually be using a real-time location solution for.

For instance, AirFinder and other active Bluetooth-based RTLS aren’t perfect for those who require highly accurate location. Those organizations—say, those who are tracking each individual package in a huge warehouse—would be better off deploying a highly accurate ultra wide-band technology. But for those tracking something like large medical equipment in a hospital, active RTLS is ideal. It’s the least expensive RTLS option and simple to deploy, which is ideal for the use case.

Therefore, it’s critical to be realistic about your application-level expectations. You’ll want to consider the outcomes you’re trying to power with location before you acquire a technology.

Use Cases

Real-time location systems can be used for a number of enterprise applications. Consider the following situations:

  • Large tech companies trying to figure out where test equipment is and where IT support people are on their campuses.
  • Prisons wanting to track inmates in order to ensure their safety and security.
  • Agricultural facilities wanting to track and monitor their equipment and livestock to ensure both safety and health.
  • Healthcare organizations and hospitals wanting to simplify the tracking and reporting of chain of custody for blood, organs, and surgical equipment that are shipped to and from the hospital for specific procedures.
  • Manufacturing facilities and plants needing to track pallets to ensure their shipments are easily located in a warehouse for quality control purposes.
  • Transportation hubs wanting to track ID or visitor badges in order to mitigate compromising situations with third parties or vendors.

Questions?

We’re here to help answer any additional questions you may have about RTLS technology.

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Written by Brian Ray

Brian is the Founder and CTO of Link Labs. As the chief technical innovator and leader of the company, Brian has led the creation and deployment of a new type of ultra long-range, low-power wireless networking which is transforming the Internet of Things and M2M space.

Before starting Link Labs, Brian led a team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab that solved communications and geolocation problems for the national intelligence community. He was also the VP of Engineering at the network security company, Lookingglass, and served for eight years as a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and received his Master’s Degree from Oxford University.