RTLS Solution Offers Alternative to Traditional RFID Vehicle Tracking

Cognosos, an Atlanta-based startup, offers a 400 MHz software-defined radio system to obtain location data about a vehicle within a car lot, typically with a single gateway on a site measuring a square mile, as well as a cloud-based server.
Published: November 14, 2018

Cognosos, an Internet of Things (IoT) technology firm located in Atlanta, Ga., is providing an alternative to active RFID-based real-time location system (RTLS) technologies for vehicle management in lots. The solution, known as RadioCloud, consists of Cognosos’s RadioTrax transmitting device and cloud-based software to manage location data.

The devices employ GPS technology for location tracking, along with Silicon Labs‘ Flex Gecko chip to transmit data to Cognosos’s cloud-based software. The platform is designed for the real-time location of assets and inventory, and has been adopted by the automotive industry. The system typically requires only a single gateway for an area spanning a square mile or larger, in addition to battery-powered tags on vehicles.

Cognosos’s Jim Stratigos

The RadioTrax tag employs an active 400 MHz transponder and GPS functionality. The device’s motion sensor detects movement, then transmits the vehicle’s location after it moves, says Jim Stratigos, Cognosos’s founder and CTO. It uses software-defined radio (SDR) communication to achieve a long read range.

The company was launched in 2015 and worked with the Smart Antenna Lab at Georgia Tech. To create its IoT platform, Cognosos built what it calls innovative wireless networking. In early 2016, the firm released its solution commercially. Three types of customers are now utilizing the technology: auto manufacturers, dealerships and auction sites for used car sales.

Each RadioTrax tag (or “tracker”) is typically hung on a car’s rear-view mirror in a dealership or other vehicle lot. Users can scan the bar code printed on the front of the tag, then scan the vehicle identification number (VIN) to create a link between the tag and the vehicle. That scanning can be accomplished using Cognosos’s mobile app on an iOS- or Android-based device. The system then begins tracking the vehicle as it moves around the facility.

The RadioTrax tag, which is about the size of a garage door opener, employs the GPS unit to identify the tag’s location at all times. It also has a motion sensor to identify whether the vehicle is moving. If the tag is not in motion, it beacons at preset intervals, but that changes if the tag moves.

The motion detector first identifies when movement takes place. It then stops and transmits that vehicle’s new location. The Cognosos gateway, which is approximately the size of a Wi-Fi node, forwards the data to the software via a Wi-Fi, cellular or Ethernet connection, in order to update the vehicle’s location. The software displays a dot on a map of the facility for users, so that they can identify it and its location by using their smartphone app or a desktop computer.

Vehicle manufacturers can use the technology to quickly locate vehicles onsite when they are needed for shipping or other services. Typically, when new vehicles are ready for distribution, they are stored in large yards; the technology enables users to view, in real time, where each specific vehicle is parked. When an order comes in, they can simply pull up that vehicle’s location and proceed to that spot to pick it up for loading onto a truck or railroad car.

Dealerships can utilize the technology to improve customer satisfaction by knowing the locations of vehicles that customers want to view or test-drive. If a shopper sees a vehicle on a company’s website, for instance, then comes in to see it, the dealership can quickly locate the car, even if it is on an adjacent lot, eliminating the need for the customer to spend excessive time waiting for it to be found.

Auction sites, meanwhile, can utilize the location functionality, while also employing the technology to improve their internal operations. At auctions, vehicles often undergo inspection, repairs, refurbishing and washing before being moved to the auction block. With the Cognosos system, used vehicle auctions can know not only where cars are located in real time, but the number of vehicles ready for auction. They can also monitor how efficient their processes are, including where bottlenecks may occur, based on how long vehicles spend at specific locations. “They want to make sure the car stays on the lot the least amount of time necessary,” Stratigos says, so managing operational workflows is critical in minimizing that time.

The system is an improvement on passive UHF RFID systems, Stratigos says, since passive RFID can identify the last known location only, rather than real-time data. Cognosos’s solution is designed to be easily deployed, he adds, noting that a single gateway can serve several miles’ worth of area, thereby reducing the amount of infrastructure that has to be installed and maintained.

Multiple companies are currently using the technology. Pat Simmons, the director of user experience at automotive dealer DAA Northwest, commented in a prepared statement that, “Cognosos has had a profound effect on our day-to-day operations, and it has dramatically impacted our ability to better serve our customers. To call this app a game-changer would be an understatement.”