Knowing the location of people and assets in real time is crucial for many industries. While outdoor localization has matured thanks to GPS, indoor localization has been a bit more challenging.
Indoor GPS tracking often suffers from signal attenuation, interference, and lack of satellite visibility. GPS also provides 2D horizontal positioning, which renders it ineffective for multi-level buildings.
In recent years, however, innovations in real-time locating systems (RTLS) have enabled more precise and agile indoor positioning capabilities. Three key advancements in real-time indoor location tracking systems are transforming indoor locationing and providing options.
The Importance of Indoor Localization in Supply Chain
Tracking indoor locations for inventory and equipment provides significant benefits across nearly every phase of the supply chain.
During manufacturing, indoor localization technologies help track the flow of materials and assets. This enables process optimization and quality control. When goods arrive in warehouses, RTLS enables efficient — and accurate — inventory control to make location tracking and the pick, pack, and ship process easier. Indoor localization systems provide end-to-end tracking for the entire fulfillment process.
Bar codes and RFID tagging provide wireless localization, but may not provide the granular positioning accuracy organizations need. Indoor positioning systems like RTLS track location ranges in near real-time, updating continuously, to provide more precise localization. In terms of accuracy, RTLS tracking using WiFi within 5 meters while more modern ultra-wideband (UWB) indoor positioning technologies can track assets within 10 to 30 centimeters.
Wireless positioning systems enable automation, reduce costs, and improve safety. Automotive-guided vehicles (AGVs), robots, and drones are streamlining operations and lowering labor costs. Real-time tracking using mobile nodes is helping to reduce human-equipment accidents and identify bottlenecks that create safety hazards.
Data from RTLS solutions can also find work and flow patterns to reduce travel time in warehouses and optimize warehouse layouts.
3 Innovations in Real-Time Indoor Localization Technology
Going well beyond indoor GPS systems, there are three specific innovations that have changed the landscape and provide affordable, precise indoor localization techniques.
1. RTLS Based on BLE Beacons for Smartphones
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons are wireless transmitters that broadcast their identifier to nearby devices. By deploying a network of BLE beacons and equipping people or assets with a BLE-enabled smartphone, you can track the location when in proximity to the beacons.
Triangulation algorithms determine the smartphone's indoor location based on the signal strength and known locations of the beacons. BLE uses the smartphone’s inertial sensors to measure the step length and heading angles of pedestrians.
This RTLS approach leverages existing hardware and does not require an installed sensor infrastructure. The cost per target node is also relatively low.
However, BLE RTLS accuracy is susceptible to radio signal interference and attenuation. Machine learning techniques can help improve accuracy by correcting real-time position estimates. This method provides an affordable current location tracking solution for businesses.
That said, localization errors may still occur. Before deploying such a solution, organizations should use a signal strength indicator to measure potential interference that can impact accuracy.
Benefits of RTLS based on BLE beacons for smartphones include:
- Leverage BLE technology already existing in smartphones
- Minimal infrastructure requirements
- Machine learning can improve localization accuracy
2. UWB Localization With Time-Based Measurement Techniques
Ultra-wideband technology relies on radio signals to estimate distance and position. By precisely measuring the time difference between transmit and receive timestamps, the software uses the time difference between UWB tags and anchors to identify positioning.
Trilateration algorithms then combine multiple range measurements to different anchors to determine the 2D or 3D position of the tag. Location accuracy within 10-30 cm is possible. UWB also provides reliable localization data even in challenging multipath conditions. As UWB tags are battery-powered, they allow wireless tracking of assets.
The infrastructure cost is higher than BLE though, requiring installed UWB anchors throughout a facility.
Benefits of UWB localization with time-based measurement techniques include:
- Highly accurate indoor positioning
- Robust performance even in cluttered or obstructed environments
- Helps enable safe use of automation, such as AGVs and industrial robots
3. Enhanced RFID Indoor Positioning With Deep Learning for IoT
Deep learning powered RFID is an emerging technique that unlocks real-time indoor localization from existing RFID installations. This innovation turns a legacy identification technology into a cutting-edge RTLS solution.
Passive RFID tags have been the default technology for inventory tracking and can be used for rough proximity detection. Today, machine learning techniques like deep neural networks are enabling standard RFID infrastructure to achieve real-time indoor localization with up to one-meter accuracy.
By collecting thousands of RFID signal measurements coupled with tag locations, deep learning models can map the complexity of signal patterns and position. Once trained, these models use distance measurements, range measurements, and location data to predict location. Such an application requires minimal infrastructure change, making deployment scalable across locations.
Benefits of enhanced RFID indoor positioning with deep learning for IoT include:
- Leveraging existing RFID infrastructure
- Deep learning can extract precise location data
- Achieves location tracking using legacy passive RFID tags
Leverage the Best RTLS for Your Supply Chain Operations
Real-time indoor localization opens new possibilities to streamline operations and provide complete supply chain visibility. Recent innovations and evolving technology allow organizations more options for tracking inventory and assets. Which type of RTLS is right for you? Each organization will need to balance the tradeoffs between accuracy, cost, scalability, and ease of integration with any indoor tracking system.
Organizations need to consider:
- What level of accuracy is required?
- What amount of latency in reporting is acceptable?
- Potential interference from signals
- Costs and budgets for installing indoor localization tracking
- Current and future use cases
Surgere is a SaaS company that engineers, develops. and deploys solutions for supply chain challenges. It has deep expertise in leveraging IoT technology, blend tagging (RFID, Bluetooth, UWB, WiFi), hardware (portals, handhelds, overhead readers), and software. Surgere provides real-time intelligence that drives better operational decisions.