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RTLS Combines Infrared and RFID

A multi-hospital health-care provider is installing a real-time location system that uses hybrid RF-IR tags to pinpoint the exact room in which an asset is located.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 31, 2007Agility Healthcare Systems, a provider of RFID-based asset-tracking and workflow improvement applications for hospitals, is taking a new approach to one of the most vexing issues facing real-time location systems (RTLS): room-level visibility. To enable end users to reliably locate the exact locations of tagged assets, the company is offering a real-time location system composed of RF and infrared (IR) auto-ID technologies developed by RF Code, coupled with its own software products.

A large, multi-hospital health-care provider has performed a beta test of the RF-IR system, says Dan Neuwirth, Agility Healthcare's COO, and Agility is currently rolling out the solution to four of its clients' locations. The company, however, declines to identify the four hospitals at this time.

Each hospital room is fitted with an A700 Room Locator, an IR transmitter designed to send a location-identifying code.

In recent years, real-time location systems using RFID tags that send data over existing Wi-Fi access points have become increasingly popular, especially for asset and personnel tracking in hospitals. These RF signals penetrate walls and can often be read through floors. As such, determining the exact location of a tag transmitting its signal to Wi-Fi access points requires the use of software to analyze each tag's signal in order to pinpoint its location within a facility. Another option for making such systems more precise is to install additional Wi-Fi access points, but that drives up the cost of the RTLS deployment.

"We need to get pretty precise granularity [from an RTLS]," says Neuwirth. "In a hospital, I really need to know if a given asset is inside a given room or not. I need to know where equipment is in relation to a patient."

Each hospital room is fitted with an A700 Room Locator, an IR transmitter designed to send a location-identifying code (representing, for example, a particular patient room). RF Code's M100-i tag contains an infrared signal receiver that detects this code and retransmits it, along with its own unique ID number, to the nearest RF Code RFID interrogator. This combination of data identifies the tag and its location. The battery-powered tag transmits its RF signal over the 433 MHz band, has a read range of up to 1,000 feet and uses a proprietary air-interface protocol.

The A700 Room Locator measures 2.94 inches by 2 inches by 4.74 inches and is powered by an AC line. The unit sends out a much stronger IR signal than that transmitted by a common remote controller for a television or other household electronics, explains RF Code CEO Mitch Medford. In terms of the intensity of the signal, he says, a remote control is analogous to a penlight, while the A700 is more of a flood lamp.

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