Real Time Location System (RTLS)
Source - Shu Shan
Last update - 25.08.2022
The modern Real-Time Location system is the basis for developing applications that increase efficiency, performance, and safety in all spheres. It can help in exactly tracking assets or vehicles, which allows employees to optimize business processes and concentrate on beneficial activities.
The market for RTLS in 2022
According to ReportLinker, the current average annual growth rate of the world market for RTLS (Real-time Locating Systems) accounts for 32.6%. At these rates, in 2022 it will increase up to 7.11 bln US dollars in comparison to 5.37 bln in 2021. This is due to the stabilization of production volumes to meet demand which has increased after the pandemic of Covid-19. According to forecasts, by the year 2026 RTLS positioning will have shown a growth rate of 28.6% and its market will have reached 19.2 bln US dollars.
The market of the Asia-Pacific region is forecasted to be the most quickly growing one. The growth is attributed to the increased number of smartphones that are widely used while implementing technologies. As reported by Mobile User Statistics, in 2021 there were about 3.8 bln mobile phone users all over the world, which accounts for 48.33% of the total global population. In the future, these figures will continue to grow.
How Does RTLS Work?
The basic principle of Real Time Location systems is based on using tags placed on tracked objects. They can be attached to equipment, vehicles, employees, and visitors. When the tagged element starts moving, the RTLS tag immediately sends signals that are detected by the readers installed in different parts of the building. The readers send data to the special software that calculates the position of the object based on the mathematical algorithms and information on the level of signals. Then the information is directed to the platform connected with the system (smartphone, computer, etc.).
RTLS systems are characterized by flexibility and wide opportunities in organizing indoor positioning and navigation. Real-Time Locating system can be easily adapted to any users’ needs in a short time and with minimum financial investments. The data, transmitted by tags, can be used for solving various tasks. Thus, many applications allow building interactive maps that show the location of assets in real-time.
Learn more about the professional Real-Time Indoor Navigation solutions for mobile appsDISCOVER INDOOR NAVIGATION
Types of real-time locating systems
There are many variants of RTLS systems realization. The choice of technologies is determined by operating conditions and requirements placed on positioning accuracy.
Radio Frequency Technologies
All radio-frequency technologies are divided into two categories:
- Standard ones – in some way adapted for measuring distance.
- Specialized ones – best equipped for detecting distance.
The equipment working on radio-frequency technologies detects the location using radio signals. The already existing infrastructure can be used as the basis for the system, which significantly reduces the system arrangement costs.
Satellite Navigation and Positioning Technologies
The most widely-used satellite technology is GPS that can ensure positioning accuracy up to 6 m (for modern satellites – up to 0.9 m). Its work is based on the ability to detect the location by measuring the moments of receiving the satellite signals. GPS navigation is mainly used outside since it can hardly allow defining location inside the building because of interferences from the land.
The ultra-wideband technology is optimal for positioning and estimating distances to objects. The equipment uses short impulses which have high bandwidth at low central frequency. The infrastructure is based on wired technology and ensures high localization accuracy. However, its application causes certain difficulties with creating a high-capacity transmitter.
Local Positioning Technologies
Local systems include ultrasound and infrared devices that detect the mobility of objects. Infrared devices make use of IR-impulses which are detected by receivers with fixed coordinates. Both models ensure high localization accuracy (up to 30 sm) but differ in low interference resistance and short-range.
The primary purpose of RFID is object identification. They are used for magnetic cards, product bar-code recognition, people identification at the enterprises with the site access control management. The technology is provided for the use of the readers which constantly reproduce radio emissions of a certain frequency within a radius of 100 m. When getting into the zone of reader action, RFID beacons use these rays as a source of power and start transmitting identification codes.
WLAN is a local network based on wireless technologies, Wi-Fi being its most common way of organization. The network scheme contains at least one hot spot which transmits its identifier (SSID) using special signaling packets. The interval of transmission is 100 msec and the speed is not less than 0.1 Mb/sec. The range of Wi-Fi hotspots is on average from 30 to 200 meters, which provides accurate positioning up to 5-10 meters.
Bluetooth® Low Energy
The optimal solution for using the Real-Time Location tracking system is the Bluetooth Low Energy standard which allows developers to create competitive applications with easily accessible tools and components. The range of its action exceeds 100 meters. One of the main advantages of BLE is ultra-low peak power consumption. Thanks to this, for setting the RTLS indoor tracking system one can use tiny sensors with continuous work.
At present, there are no universal RTLS technologies that could provide location accuracy in different conditions, in closed spaces, or the open air. However, Bluetooth® technology is considered one of the most common. It is widely used for solving tasks in the sphere of geolocation.
RTLS Components and Working Principles
While implementing Real Time Locating system, several components are applied: transponders, readers, and software for processing signals. The total volume of hardware is defined according to the complexity of the positioning system, the used technology, and the tasks that have to be solved for the client.
Transponders include RTLS tags attached to the monitored objects. They have their unique identifiers and can be passive or equipped with their power supply. Different technologies make use of various types of transponders, including:
- Wi-Fi tags;
- Bluetooth® beacons;
- RFID tags;
- Infrared or ultrasound tags;
- GPS/GNSS tags, etc.
Transponders can be equipped with programmed buttons or means of notification (vibration, sound, or light signals). Their lifetime depends on settings, power-supply source, and the frequency of information update. The more often the tag transmits data, the more quickly its accumulator is run out, but the average operating period is about 5 years.
Readers belong to network equipment that is installed in some fixed places inside buildings and receives impulses from transponders. They can be part of the existing system or can be integrated into the environment while implementing the Real Time Location tracking platform. As in the case with transponders, in different technologies, various types of readers are used, such as position sensors, receivers, points of access, smart devices, etc.
The software is a key tool of the system that processes information from readers, shows the current tag location, accumulates data on object movements, and stores their history. In case of emergencies, such as accessing restricted zones, the software can display the information on the screen and also direct the notification to the devices of the employees who are close to the scene.
In most cases, the software has a user-friendly web interface and is characterized by flexible opportunities for scaling.
Examples of RTLS Application
For a complete understanding of Real Time Location tracker performance, we’ll provide key examples of the system used for business.
Tracking Assets Inside Buildings
Using RTLS, one can track assets inside premises. The tags, placed on working vehicles, equipment, or goods in warehouses, allow detecting their location in real-time. The data on asset movement is displayed on the interactive map. Users get the possibility to track certain objects, perform traffic analytics, and optimize logistics business processes.
Learn more about asset tracking system using IoT.
Indoor Navigation and Positioning
RTLS positioning opens unlimited opportunities for organizing efficient indoor navigation. Users get access to digital maps with points of interest, can quickly search objects inside buildings, and create routes to the necessary places.
Using RTLS ensures staff safety at workplaces. The system can control the access to restricted zones at plants or the staff who work in a dangerous environment. In present-day realities, an essential function of the platform is to track social distancing that prevents catching Covid-19.
Spheres of RTLS application
RTLS can be applied in various spheres, the most common ones are the following:
- Production. Using the system, one can efficiently track assets at each stage of the production process – from production to storing and sales. The Real-Time Locating Systems RTLS implementation allows locating equipment, vehicles, as well as timely, react to emergencies.
- Medicine. The key tasks in healthcare are monitoring equipment and patients’ condition. Real-Time Locating services help to increase the level of safety within the medical institution and improve the quality of healthcare.
- Logistics. Using the system in logistics provides a possibility to monitor vehicles effectively, track goods storage and transportation. RTLS technology can be easily integrated into video surveillance systems. Moreover, it helps to build optimal routes for vehicles.
- Retail. In trading, the technology is used for attracting clients with the possibility to save on marketing campaigns. It helps customers to find the necessary goods in the store, monitor material handling equipment at the stock office of the store and equipment for cleaning the supermarket, and keep a record of shopping carts.
- Museums and exhibitions. Exhibits are valuable items so they need high-level security. The system ensures full control over the items and reacts timely to their relocation. Additionally, it helps develop applications (programs for mobile devices, audio guides, etc) that allow visitors to find the necessary exhibit or get more detailed information on it.
- Transportation. In transportation RTLS systems help passengers to find the shortest way to different places at airports or railway stations. The system is often used for tracking flows of people, improving staff navigation, tracking equipment in real-time.
Real-time Locating System Deployment
The real-time location system RTLS offers users a broad variety of solutions that should be selected with due consideration to the specifics of a particular company. Nevertheless, several key principles can be successfully applied in all enterprises to reduce the deployment time:
- Preparation. Before implementing RTLS, it is necessary to decide how the system is going to be used. The following questions should be answered: where the system is going to be run, what the project scope is, what objects will be tracked, how much accuracy you would like to achieve, and what is the frequency of platform updates. Based on this, you can choose the most suitable technology for your company.
- Cost calculation. The main deployment costs include expenses on hardware, equipment installation, training staff, software licenses, integration into the company’s infrastructure, and current maintenance. While calculating, companies have to evaluate ROI and opportunities for savings that will help to find the most profitable option.
- Solving IT issues. Define who will install the equipment and be responsible for its full-scale operation. Solve the issues of cyber-safety, including the work in the cloud or a local server.
- Integration. During the deployment, it is necessary to integrate the system into the already existing infrastructure of the company. You have to consider if you can do it yourself if your supplier has the required tools, experience, and API, or if you have to look for a partner for integration.
If you get the right answers to all the above-mentioned questions, it is possible to choose the most effective technology that will solve any assigned tasks.
Thus, RTLS is a promising technology that is easily integrated into the concept of the Internet of Things. It helps quickly identify the objects of interest and view a location in real-time.
After a slight stagnation in 2020-2021 caused by the pandemic Covid-19, the demand for RTLS technologies started to grow again. These systems are rather popular in production, healthcare, and education. They are actively used for tracking vehicles and assets. At the same time, one can observe the decline in prices for software and hardware for the RTLS system implementation, which ensures further growth of this market.
Nowadays in the world, many problems are easier to solve by applying RTLS technologies. One of them is breaking the disruption of supply chains, which impedes the timely transportation of goods.
The difficulties with supply chains make many companies move their production to the coast close to ports, which results in a shortage of workforce. According to Deloitte, by the year 2030, the shortage of qualified employees will have accounted for 2.1 mln people. Due to these problems, many enterprises turn to the implementation of real-time location service systems which can help to increase staff efficiency and ensure a faster reaction to changing situations. It is expected that the growth in the number of smartphones and mobile applications for RTLS solutions will result in significant growth in the market for indoor navigation already in the near future.
What are the benefits of RTLS for business?
Real-time location systems allow businesses to optimize their work. Thanks to them, it is possible to increase efficiency, and ensure the safety of visitors and employees. Moreover, RTLS helps deliver useful information to clients and opens opportunities for successful marketing campaigns.
How exact is RTLS?
The RTLS accuracy depends on the applied technology. Thus, Bluetooth® LE based platforms define the location of objects with an accuracy of up to 10 m, while using WI-Fi – from 3 to 5 m. The most accurate technology is the UWB (Ultra-Wide Band) which detects objects within the range of 30 sm.
How can RTLS be used in healthcare?
Navigation and positioning systems significantly simplify the work of the medical staff. They can track objects inside buildings, monitor the occupancy of wards, and build routes to procedure rooms and doctors’ offices. Moreover, RTLS technology in healthcare allows monitoring of the traffic of patients and rendering them timely medical assistance if their conditions worsen. The platforms reduce the time for searching for medical equipment and prevent the theft of expensive devices.
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