French RTLS Company Joins EU Initiative for Flexible Electronics Innovation

The SmartEE H2020 acceleration program will provide UWINLOC with nine months of research with partners and university researchers, to develop a small, recyclable RTLS tag for its UHF and UWB location-awareness solution.
Published: December 11, 2018

Indoor location systems company UWINLOC is one of 20 companies participating in the European Union (EU)’s SmartEEs H2020 initiative to develop new, flexible electronics that can be built into products or processes. The participants will each develop and build what is being called an Application Experiment (AE) to help bring new products to market. SmartEEs, an acceleration program supporting innovation in flexible electronics technologies, is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

UWINLOC plans to develop a miniaturized and sustainable version of its technology for location tracking. The company will work with Eurecat, as well as university researchers, to develop a product aimed at addressing new market segments. UWINLOC intends to develop a smaller version of its ultra-wideband (UWB) and ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag that is flexible and sustainable, with a printed antenna.

Patrick Chan

The tag’s small size and flexibility would enable it to be attached to small items, such as tools or objects with curved surfaces in industrial environments, as well as in health care, logistics or retail. The tag will be designed to be made of recyclable materials, the company reports.

UWINLOC was launched in 2015 to solve a problem at production plants and warehouses that was not being properly addressed by existing RFID and real-time locating system (RTLS) technologies. UHF RFID provides location data to interrogators via a passive tag, but the location of an object or individual cannot be pinpointed specifically. RTLS solutions, on the other hand, required an active tag with a battery.

After one year of development with off-the-shelf products, says Patrick Chan, UWINLOC’s product director, the company opted to design its own hardware using passive UHF and UWB technologies, manufactured by a third party according to UWINLOC’s specifications. The tags receive interrogation transmissions from UHF RFID emitters, then respond with UWB signals. The UWB interrogators, known as beacons, enable users to identify an item’s location in 3D within approximately 12 inches (meaning the system understands how high an object is located, such as one stacked on a shelf), as well as its location within a warehouse.

Key customers have been in the industrial aircraft and original equipment manufacturing sectors, using the technology to track tools and small components around assembly facilities (see Airbus Testing Low-Cost RTLS from UWINLOC). Since the system was developed, the company has grown from a dozen employees to about 40, with an office in Toulouse, France, and an agent in Los Angeles, Calif. The firm is also in discussions with customers throughout Asia.

With the H2020 project, UWINLOC intends to design a tag that can operate with both UHF and UWB, but has a smaller footprint and is flexible and mostly recyclable. The inlay and printed antenna would be recyclable, though the IC would not. The company plans to work with a service delivery manager to focus on business cases for the product, according to Félix Zanker, UWINLOC’s product engineer. The nine-month project is beginning now. “We’ve just finalized the administration aspect with Eurecat,” Zanker states.

Félix Zanker

While existing tags measure about 6 square centimeters (0.9 square inch) in size, the company intends to reduce the electronics’ parts size to around 1 square centimeter (0.12 square inch), enabling the creation of much smaller tags. It also expects to print an antenna onto a flexible substrate that will be low-cost and recyclable. The manufacturing process to create the tags, Chan report, will be designed to provide a low environmental impact as well.

H2020, Zanker says, “allows us to address new markets,” which could include retailers of clothing and luxury goods. The development work will take place at Eurecat’s facility in Barcelona, Spain, as well as at research labs at Grenoble University and Paul Sabatier University, in Toulouse.

UWINLOC makes fixed readers to capture UHF and UWB transmissions, and also offers handheld readers. In addition, the company provides an application programming interface (API) or software developer’s kit (SDK) for customers to create their own software packages.