Lighting Company Builds RTLS Into Its Automation System

By Claire Swedberg

A system from Cooper Lighting Solutions provides BLE-based data, with Vizzia software for asset and people management via light fixtures, in order to provide indoor locating without a reader infrastructure or batteries.

Cooper Lighting Solutions is offering a real-time location system (RTLS) with its smart lighting to enable the location of assets or individuals at hospitals or other sites, without the need to install a separate standalone RTLS solution. With Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sensors built into the lighting fixtures, Cooper Lighting Solutions' Trellix Locate app locates badges, wristbands and tags to identify where assets, patients and staff members are in real time, and captures analytics and alerts based on that information. The goal, the company explains, is to offer technology that enables faster, safer care for patients as part of the facility's lighting and controls system.

Trellix Locate, an application within the company's Trellix Smart Spaces IoT Platform, is intended for use in the healthcare sector to limit waiting room times, and to track the real-time use of operating rooms and hospital beds, among other features. The solution, released in May 2020, leverages software and integration services from other companies, such as  Vizzia Technologies, a Georgia-based process-improvement company. Vizzia's software manages the data from RFID and RTLS implementations.

Eric Jerger

The Cooper Lighting Solutions system works with the company's WaveLinx Wireless lighting-automation platform, which is deployed around North America. The Trellix IoT Smart Spaces platform has been deployed throughout two million square feet of healthcare space, as well as at office and education sites, according to Eric E. Jerger, the company's indoor business leader. Cooper Lighting Solutions identified RTLS technology in its communications with customers, Jerger says.

"As part of our connected solutions strategy," Jerger states, "we interviewed hundreds of our customers… to understand their businesses, strategies and challenges." The company found that facilities could benefit from RTLS data to manage assets and individuals, especially in the healthcare market. In fact, when Cooper Lighting Solutions began developing the Trellix location solution, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, some hospitals and healthcare facilities were already deploying RTLS technology for equipment, patient and staff management, as well as for indoor positioning and visitor wayfinding.

However, the installation cost was often a barrier, Jerger says, and the need to replace batteries, monitors, transmitters or beacons resulted in an extra expense. Cooper Lighting Solutions found itself well positioned to offer a solution. "We concluded that our connected lighting solution can offer an affordable real-time location solution and remove the cost barrier associated with legacy RTLS," he explains. Companies could leverage the real estate of their lighting system to eliminate the need for separate lighting and RTLS setups.

As part of the solution, Cooper Lighting Solutions has built its own BLE sensors into its luminaires to provide RTLS coverage wherever lighting is installed. BLE tags, which the company sells from partner manufacturers, transmit data to the nearest Trellix sensors, providing what the company says is room-level accuracy. In the future, the firm adds, the location granularity may offer bed- and chair-level accuracy.

The sensors in the lighting capture each tag's unique ID number, then send that data via an 802.15.4 Zigbee mesh network to Cooper Lighting Solutions' gateways (which it terms Wireless Access Controllers), says Soroush Amidi, the company's product-management director. Those gateways, in turn, communicate back to the firm's location server, known as Trellix Core, via Ethernet connectivity.

Soroush Amidi

Vizzia's software manages the data on the Trellix Core server. Vizzia is a technology-agnostic software company with an Internet of Things (IoT) lab at the University of New Mexico, in Albuquerque, where it tests different RTLS and RFID technologies, according to Dave Wiedman, the company's chief commercial officer. Wiedman says the deployment is the first of its kind among lighting companies venturing into RTLS. The two big advantages the solution offers, he says, are ubiquitous coverage and a low cost of deployment. When it comes to coverage areas, he adds, users already need lights in every room and hallway, and the corresponding RTLS coverage is thus ubiquitous.

"Because I've installed lighting with sensors in it," Wiedman states, "I've opened up any of the RTLS use cases that I've ever wanted." The other benefit is cost savings, and one of the biggest expenses for adopting RTLS technology, he says, is the installation of the infrastructure to read RTLS tags. "We've seen about a 33 percent savings" with Trellix Locate deployments, he explains, based on infrastructure and installation. Because the sensors are powered by the lighting system, there are no batteries, he notes. Therefore, users are spared the need for battery checking and replacing.

The Vizzia software identifies assets and their locations based on BLE tag reads, Wiedman reports, and it can do the same for personnel and patients, as well as ensure hand-hygiene compliance solutions, once the Trellix infrastructure is in place. Vizzia also provides onsite managed services at facilities deploying the system. The company's API links the collected data to the Trellix Locate solution, while its Vizzia Maps app displays facility floor plans and the location of tags on each floor. "Suddenly, every cuff or pump in a patient room would show up," he says.

Moreover, the system identifies exceptions, such as if an asset is leaving an authorized area, or if a patient has been delayed in a waiting room, which could prompt alerts to be displayed for a hospital. Although the system was already being developed before the COVID-19 pandemic, the company reports, the outbreak has accelerated interest among healthcare facilities. The solution could potentially help busy healthcare workers locate ventilators, respirators and other equipment, Wiedman says, as well as treat patients more efficiently. The system, for instance, can ensure that equipment is available for use when needed, and that rental equipment can be located and returned by specific dates.

Wiedman Dave

In addition, alerts can be received on most mobile devices, including those based on both Android and iOS. By tracking patients' movements—for instance, by providing a BLE wristband to each patient upon check-in—hospitals can accomplish contact tracing, as well as prevent excess contact between patients and staff members if an infectious disease poses a risk. Staff members can also wear badges with push-button alerting in the event of an emergency. The badges can be located so that alerts can be sent to the appropriate security personnel. With RTLS built into the lighting system, Wiedmam says, "I think it's a game-changer. Now the coverage is ubiquitous."

Trellix Locate is being used in other vertical markets with office-type settings as well, Jerger says, adding, "However, our primary target sectors are healthcare, education and commercial offices." Customers can adopt the RTLS solution either in a new installation or as part of an upgrade to an existing lighting system. Either way, he adds, customers are seeing savings of 30 percent or more, compared to legacy RTLS technologies. "Furthermore," Jerger states, "lighting upgrades from incandescent to LED can provide substantial energy savings that can be used towards Trellix Locate."

"Our focus is on providing the best IoT infrastructure possible," Amidi says, "and delivering data through open APIs to partners." In addition to Vizzia software, the solution utilizes analytics software from other companies, such as  ZulaFly.