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RTLS Protects Mine and Tunnel Workers

Ekahau, the real-time location system (RTLS) provider, this week announced that its solution has been deployed by a tunnel work site in León, Spain. RFID Update spoke with Tuomo Rutanen, Ekahau's vice president of business development, about the deployment.
Feb 10, 2006This article was originally published by RFID Update.

February 10, 2006—Ekahau, the real-time location system (RTLS) provider, this week announced that its solution has been deployed by a tunnel work site in León, Spain. RFID Update spoke with Tuomo Rutanen, Ekahau's vice president of business development, about the deployment.

Bautel, the company building the railroad tunnel in León, asked themselves, "What can we do to look after the well-being of our employees?", said Rutanen. With an RTLS system, workers' locations can be tracked and recorded in real-time so that in the event of a disaster, everyone's most recent location can be known immediately. "You get a snapshot of where everybody was."

One of the primary reasons Ekahau's system was chosen, according to Bautel sales manager Jose Luis Santos, is that it harnesses an existing Wi-Fi network instead of requiring the deployment of separate, proprietary technology. In Bautel's case, a Wi-Fi network had been installed at the 25km tunnel site already, and it is continually extended as the team bores deeper. The ability to piggyback on this existing network meant that the system was "installed and running in a matter of just a few days," according to Santos. This feature of the Ekahau system is a significant competitive differentiator for the company, noted Rutanen. "Ekahau is an easy, natural application on top of the Wi-Fi network," he said.

Another feature of the Ekahau system that was attractive to Bautel is its capacity for two-way communication. Some RTLS solutions act as "beaconing" systems in which the tags do not do much beyond announcing themselves with identifier information. With Ekahau, said Rutanen, signals can be centrally distributed to the workers' tags, causing them to illuminate, buzz, or beep. This would be useful in a situation where unaware workers need to be alerted to potential hazard. The workers themselves can also communicate back to the central system by pressing a call button located on the tag. In an emergency situation, a trapped worker could press the button, relaying his location to the central system which would be graphically displayed on a web-based map of the site.

In addition to the compelling safety benefits to tunnel and mining operations, RTLS can also provide financially rewarding asset-tracking possibilities. Many tunnel and mine operators want to track the location of their tooling and vehicles to achieve improved asset utilization. "Safety is a key driver" of RTLS, said Rutanen, but "there is actually financial incentive to do something like this as well."

While the recent mine tragedies in West Virginia have directed public attention in the US to the issue of industrial safety, Rutanen noted that safety applications are not a new direction for Ekahau. In fact, the company had already done mine deployments in Africa, Europe, and South America. "There is a heightened interest in the US to prevent this from happening again," he said. "But it's not a new thing... There's simply more scrutiny from the press and the public."

The RTLS market is a young but growing one. The Yankee Group predicted in September that the market will rocket from less than $20 million in 2005 to more than $1.6 billion in 2010. For a comprehensive assessment of RTLS, see the following three RFID Update articles by Yankee analyst Marcus Torchia:

Read the deployment announcement from Ekahau
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