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New RTLS Solution Combines WiFi, UWB, and RFID

AeroScout's new software and partnerships with Reva Systems and Time Domain enable real-time location systems (RTLS) that can combine WiFi, UWB, and passive RFID technologies in a single system.
Feb 04, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

February 4, 2008—AeroScout announced a series of partnerships and new software capabilities that let organizations use multiple real-time location system (RTLS) technologies in a single system. The Silicon Valley company, known for its WiFi-based RTLS systems, released version 4.0 of its flagship MobileView software that now supports ultra-wideband (UWB) RTLS technology from Time Domain of Huntsville, Alabama, and also integrates with Reva Systems' Tag Acquisition Processor (TAP), a device that collects and manages data from passive RFID readers. With the new MobileView 4.0 and compatible hardware, WiFi RTLS, UWB RTLS, and passive RFID can be used in a single system that can scale to track hundreds of thousands of items.

WiFi-based RTLS determines a tagged item's location to within a few meters. UWB systems can provide location accuracy to within centimeters. Precision varies for passive RFID systems, but they have much less range than WiFi and UWB RTLS.

"One form of visibility is often not enough," AeroScout director of marketing Josh Slobin told RFID Update. "Our partnerships and MobileView 4.0 bring all the data together and make it actionable from a single point."

AeroScout and Time Domain are co-developing dual WiFi-UWB tags and readers. WiFi is much more widely used for RTLS than UWB and is popular because organizations can often deploy it on top of their existing wireless LAN infrastructure. UWB requires a separate network and tags, but provides much more precise location accuracy. Many UWB RTLS users originally installed a WiFi-based system, then supplemented or replaced it with UWB after discovering they needed more precise location data, Greg Clawson, Time Domain's vice president of sales and marketing, told RFID Update. The new dual-mode tags and readers will work with a single software platform, thereby eliminating the need for an incompatible dual RTLS infrastructure.

AeroScout and Time Domain said prices for dual-mode tags and readers, which they've dubbed "Ultra-Wi-Fi," would be comparable to current products, but did not provide details. They expect to release the product line by the end of this quarter.

"Our customers and partners are telling us that even though UWB can solve all of their location-based business needs, they would still like to re-use their WiFi networks in concert with UWB to provide inches-level accuracy while simultaneously tracking thousands of assets. Ultra-Wi-Fi delivers both capabilities," Clawson said in Time Domain's announcement.

For example, Clawson estimated a hospital might need UWB-level location accuracy for 30 percent of its facility, while WiFi would be sufficient for the rest. In manufacturing, he envisions using UWB in a dual-mode system to track work-in-process (WIP), and WiFi to track assets and monitor inventory.

Passive RFID is also used for WIP and inventory tracking in many other industries, so AeroScout's partnership with Boston-based Reva Systems provides passive RFID users more technology and software flexibility.

"With the maturity of the RFID market, many customers are simultaneously deploying both active and passive systems to meet a broad set of needs," Buck Devashish, Reva's VP of business development, said in an announcement. "... our partnership with AeroScout provides the unified RFID solution these customers need."

AeroScout's Slobin said hundreds of thousands of assets can be tracked by integrating Reva's Tag Acquisition Processor with MobileView 4.0. "This is nothing new for passive RFID, but it is really scalable for active RFID," he said. "This is an integration of two technologies that until this point haven't traditionally been tightly integrated in a single system."

The partnerships and cross-technology support may be taken as signs the industry is maturing. RTLS companies have traditionally marketed themselves on the strength of their technologies, particularly on their specific flavor of RTLS technology (WiFi, UWB, active RFID, etc.) or their proprietary algorithms. The recent announcements from AeroScout and its partners focus on integration and ease of use, which should be a welcome development for organizations concerned about integration or confused about which technology to choose.

Raghu Das, CEO of research firm IDTechEx, previously told RFID Update the proprietary nature of UWB technology has somewhat hindered adoption (see UWB Finding a Place in the RTLS Market for more insight and an overview of the UWB RTLS market).

Other companies are also acting on the need for interoperable tracking technologies. Axcess International recently announced its Dot tag for asset tracking that supports multiple RFID frequencies and standards (see Active RFID Tag Supports Multiple Frequencies), and RF Code announced a peripheral accessory that lets any Bluetooth-compatible device read its 433 MHz active tags (see New Mobile Active RFID Reader Goes Anywhere).

Read the MobileView 4.0 announcement from AeroScout
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