RFID Company’s Acquisition Combines BLE With UHF for Assisted Living, Hospitals

Quake Global has purchased Skynet, a health-care technology company that provides Bluetooth Mesh systems, so that both active and passive location technologies can be combined to manage assets, patients and staff members for operational improvements.
Published: October 23, 2019

Internet of Things (IoT) technology company Quake Global has acquired Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) health-care technology firm Skynet to provide an active Bluetooth Mesh solution, in conjunction with its passive RFID system, for the health-care and assisted-living markets. The acquisition means customers can take advantage of both passive and active location systems, Quake Global reports, by using integrated dual BLE and UHF RFID tags and a single software platform.

The benefit, according to the company, will be that passive RFID can be used on lower-cost items like consumables or long-lived equipment for scenarios in which battery changes on tags would be inconvenient. At the same time, the BLE functionality can provide the locations of mobile assets and individuals in real time without requiring further reader infrastructure. The acquisition also positions Quake Global to move into the assisted-living space, according to Polina Braunstein, the company’s president and CEO. Quake Global, based in San Diego, offers solutions for the construction, industrial, logistics, transportation and health-care markets.

Quake Global’s Polina Braunstein

For customers in all four sectors, Braunstein says, Quake Global has built a solution not only for asset tracking, but also for process optimization. One example would be understanding when a patient is in a treatment room, as well as when doctors visit him or her, based on RFID tag reads. The system can also bring intelligence to operating room use by tracking the times of room preparation and cleanup. With Quake Global’s solution, she explains, hospitals have “the ability to identify the beginning of a surgery and completion to improve operating room management.”

Currently, Quake Global is providing its solutions for the management of patients, staff members, assets and laboratory specimens for several large U.S.-based health-care companies. The system consists of Quake Global’s software, residing either in the cloud or on a user’s premises, and its fixed reader portals and handheld readers. It can be used to track when a patient goes into surgery, when a specimen for that patient leaves the operating room and enters the laboratory, and who delivers the specimen.

Skynet provides software and hardware that includes BLE technology, with its own software and beacons, that can enable the tracking of goods in real time as they move around a facility. With the Skynet beacon solution, assisted-living facilities and nursing homes can view where particular assets or patients are located as they move around the facility, provided that they have a beacon worn (for patients) or attached (for assets).

The beacon comes with an accelerometer for fall detection and a built-in emergency button that users can press to signal they need immediate help. The software detects the beacon’s location, based on the mesh network, and can forward a request for help to authorized parties in the area, such as nurses, while also providing the approximate location of the patient or staff member who requires assistance.

The beacons have a relatively long battery life of about 12 months, Braunstein says. However, she adds, by providing UHF RFID technology as part of an integrated solution, users could employ RFID transmissions as a backup technology in the event that the battery dies, or for an alternative to beacons on items that are lower in value or do not require RTLS tracking. Passive RFID, Braunstein says, “doesn’t give you mobility” to track items that are not near an RFID reader portal, but it does provide low-cost, battery-free tracking at locations such as zones within a hospital (for a laboratory, for instance) or the building’s exits and entrances.

Both Skynet and Quake Global will provide the new hybrid solution. In a hybrid deployment, a company could use Skynet beacons with printed UHF RFID tags attached to them. The Quake Global UHF RFID reader portals or handheld readers could capture data when tags are within the vicinity of those readers. In the meantime, the beacons could be set to transmit data at specific intervals. They would beacon their own unique ID number, and the facility’s other Bluetooth Mesh devices could forward the collected location data to the server so that users could view where a patient or asset was moving in real time.

For hospital and assisted-living sites, Braunstein says, “We will be introducing the bi-directional-enabled, mesh-capable BLE devices to improve location capability of assets inside and outside. “Potential use cases for BLE RTLS functionality in hospitals would be the tracking of high-risk patients, such as those in a psychiatric ward, or OB-GYN for newborn babies, as well as the elderly who might be at risk of falls. It could also enable nurse calls in real time if a patient or hospital employee requires immediate assistance, Braunstein says. “I can attach BLE technology to anything that is mobile,” she states, “and instantly create a mesh network. I don’t need to have antennas installed around the environment.”

For example, Braunstein says, users could employ UHF RFID readers at the entrances to perioperative areas, labs and patient rooms, or at exits. A low-cost adhesive RFID tag’s unique ID could be linked to data about a particular patient or asset. That tag could be applied to the BLE device, which also transmits a unique ID that could be similarly linked to the person or asset to which the device was attached. The device could then beacon its Bluetooth signal at specific intervals, while the RFID tag could be used only at portals, or during inventory counts, by staff members carrying a handheld RFID reader.

In the long run, Quake Global plans to integrate the two solutions on a single software platform. Initially, the company is offering an additional layer to its existing software for customers that want to add BLE functionality to their existing systems. According to Braunstein, the company anticipates that “every single customer will have an interest in the option with use of dual technology to ensure, if a battery is going out, they can still identify the asset, patient or equipment.”

Quake Global is presently in conversations with its customers about expanding their exiting solutions to include the Skynet-based RTLS functionality, and the company is also in discussions with Skynet’s customers about deploying UHF RFID with RTLS BLE technology. Within about six months, Braunstein says, the firm expects to have deployments under way.

Health care and assisted living, Braunstein says, are growing markets, and the technology companies offer complimentary solutions. Due to its patented software algorithms, she adds, Quake Global’s UHF RFID read accuracy is as high or higher than its competitors, at about 98 percent, while Skynet has a similar goal for its own solutions. “We share the same philosophy,” she states, adding that there is a synergy between the two companies.