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Fathom Beacon Hub Tracks Buses, Other Objects in Real Time

The product, being launched now, will enable companies to capture the locations of Bluetooth Low Energy beacons within a few meters and thereby know when and where a beacon has been moved.
By Claire Swedberg

Witten says Blacksburg Transit has been testing the Fathom system to use the same GeLo beacons to locate buses inside the garage, which measures 220 meters by 250 meters (722 feet by 820 feet). The transit company installed 20 Fathom Hubs earlier this year, he reports, and has been testing the system for the past eight months in order to determine how well it could locate a bus within a particular section of the garage.

Dispatching buses is fairly complicated, Witten notes, since different types of buses are sent on different routes, and each must be serviced, cleaned and fueled before going on its route. Drivers arrive on site and need to know where their buses are located, and the vehicles may, at times, not be positioned in a way that makes them easy to access when needed. Blacksburg Transit hopes to use the Fathom solution to provide bus location information to its entire staff. "If there's an opportunity to make life easier for them," Witten states, "we want to use it."

Fathom's Shawn Bouchard
The BLE proximity gateway device that Fathom is offering has been in beta for several years of testing prior to this month's launch, Bouchard says. Fathom offers the product in three versions. One supports what Bouchard calls "presence mode," whereby the Hub simply identifies when it reads a beacon transmission, and users thus know that a specific beacon is within that zone. Presence mode is intended to determine proximity versus movement, he explains. It can identify an object's location, but not with a high degree of accuracy.

Another version operates in "static mode," with the hub serving as a receiving device for beacon IDs and their locations, so that users can be alerted in the event that a beacon that should be stationary is moved or fails to operate properly. The dynamic mode—the version that Blacksburg is currently using—assumes that beacons move, and the software can be set up to identify every movement and new location of each beacon, as well as send alerts if any move outside of expected perimeters. For instance, the system could issue an alert to a bus company like Blacksburg if a bus were being taken out of the garage before it had gone to the maintenance, washing and fueling stations.

Blacksburg's pilot went well, Witten says, proving that the hub can effectively identify the locations of buses within a few meters, and the application programming interface (API) enables the transit company to forward that data into its own management software. "Now that we feel we have a working product," he says, "we'll start presenting it to our dispatchers" for use by the third quarter of 2017. Following dispatcher use, he intends to provide the technology data to maintenance, fueling and cleaning personnel. Witten hopes the bus staff will be able to use the location data to quickly locate a vehicle if a customer has a lost-and-found request. In addition, he expects the system will enable the staff to identify how buses are parked compared to routing plans for the next day. In that way, he says, bus access should become more efficient for drivers and other employees.

According to Bouchard, companies in manufacturing and infrastructure (rail yards, for instance) are interested in using the Fathom Hub with beacons to track the movements of assets and workers for a variety of use cases. This, he says, includes ensuring that employees remain a safe distance from any potential dangers.

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