As technology has advanced over the years, Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) have emerged as transformative tools, empowering organisations to precisely track and manage the locations of people, assets, and equipment in real-time. This constant, up-to-date information significantly boosts operational efficiency, safety, and security across various industries, such as healthcare, manufacturing, and logistics. In this article, we will uncover the diverse RTLS coverage options, investigate the technologies that can be utilised for RTLS, and offer a compelling usage example within a medical hospital setting.
RTLS Coverage Options: A Spectrum of Possibilities
The capabilities and read ranges of RTLS are as diverse as the technologies and setups that drive them. Depending on the unique demands of a given application, RTLS can offer various coverage levels. In this section, we explore several coverage options, emphasising that increased granularity can be achieved by carefully selecting the technology, the number of receivers and tags, and the positioning method employed.
- Choke Points - These critical junctures — doorways, hallways, entrances/exits — are areas through which items or people must pass during normal operations. Choke points are designed to be narrower, accommodating the read ranges of particular technologies. An application in this context could involve tracking pallet storage with manufactured products in a warehouse.
- Local Area Coverage - Focusing on a more confined space, this coverage option locates an item or person within a building or facility connected to the same network. An everyday application might involve tracking an IT asset within a company's premises.
- Wide Area Coverage - Encompassing a global scale, this coverage level pinpoints an item or person using global coordinates. A prime example would be tracking the location of cargo containers with valuable machinery as they traverse oceans or land.
- Zonal Coverage - Delving into specific zones (i.e., a room or office within a larger area), zonal coverage locates items or people by strategically positioning hardware based on read range and obstacles. A fitting example would be locating a high-value oxygen tank inside a hospital.
Exploring Technologies for RTLS Implementation
Choosing the right technology for your RTLS tracking system is essential to ensure it meets your application's specific needs. In this section, we discuss the most commonly used technologies that enable successful RTLS deployments.
- GNSS/GPS - Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) deliver wide-area coverage on a worldwide scale. These satellite systems are designed to provide precise navigation and location services, making them indispensable for various RTLS applications.
- Infrared Radiation - Infrared tags, often paired with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, increase location accuracy in large areas. These tags emit modulated signals with their unique IDs powered by small batteries.
- Passive RFID - Passive Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) RFID can enhance RTLS efficiency through strategic placement of antennas, covering choke points at entrances and exits or dividing rooms and areas.
- Active RFID - Commonly used for RTLS in large, outdoor environments, Active UHF RFID tags contain batteries for continuous signal broadcasting.
- Ultra-Wideband (UWB) - Similar to Active RFID, UWB tags send out RF energy for receivers to detect. UWB boasts high accuracy for room and zone-level location, calculating positions within a few centimetres due to its short, narrow transmissions.
- Ultrasound Radiation - Ultrasound systems utilise tags with small batteries to transmit unique ID signals to room-based receivers, which then forward the data to a host computer or networked/cloud database.
- Vision - Vision-based systems employ high-end cameras to detect and recognise item locations. Enhanced with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, these cameras transmit images, image data, and timestamps to host computers or networked/cloud databases.
- Wi-Fi - Leveraging pre-existing Wi-Fi access points, Wi-Fi-based location systems minimise additional hardware costs. Wi-Fi tags or smart devices with built-in Wi-Fi radios send signals to nearby access points, enabling efficient location tracking.
- Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) - BLE tags, or beacons, continuously broadcast signals detectable by Bluetooth-enabled devices, such as receivers, other beacons, or smart devices. This versatile technology allows for seamless integration into various RTLS applications.
An Example of RTLS in Action
Picture this scenario: a medical hospital leverages RTLS to track crucial equipment like mobile X-ray machines, infusion pumps or other hospital assets. Here, a blend of BLE and Wi-Fi technologies creates an RTLS system, offering zonal coverage throughout various departments.
Upon arrival, each medical device is tagged with a BLE beacon and logged in the RTLS system, including details such as equipment type, manufacturer, and maintenance history. BLE beacons, placed strategically around the hospital, send signals to Bluetooth receivers or Wi-Fi access points in fixed locations, which are then sent to a central network or cloud database.
Using a specialised app on handheld devices, hospital staff can easily locate necessary equipment. The RTLS system computes the equipment's real-time location via trilateration, factoring in signal strength and positioning data from multiple receivers or access points. This quick equipment location tracking process saves time and enhances patient care.
Experience the Power of RTLS with PCI's Expertise
At PCI, we recognise the significant advantages of RTLS technology and are dedicated to assisting our clients in utilising its capabilities to improve operations and optimise asset management. Our team of experts collaborates with clients to design and implement tailored RTLS solutions that incorporate cutting-edge technologies such as BLE, GPS, RFID, and Wi-Fi. Our comprehensive service approach ensures the delivery of customised solutions that meet your project's specific needs. To learn how we can help you realise your RTLS goals, contact us today and experience the benefits that real-time location intelligence can offer your organisation.
RTLS technology is transforming industries by enabling organisations to track their assets, equipment, and people in real-time. In this article, we explore various RTLS coverage options, the technologies used, and provide a usage example in a medical hospital setting. By leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as BLE, GPS, RFID, and Wi-Fi, RTLS can significantly enhance operational efficiency, safety, and security in various sectors. At PCI, a team of experts collaborate with clients to design and deploy customised RTLS solutions. Our comprehensive service approach ensures tailored solutions that meet our clients' unique requirements, unlocking the full potential of real-time location intelligence.