Rom Eizenberg is the Director of Marketing and Business Development at Precision Location Systems of Tel Aviv, Israel and Milan, Italy. The company specilizes in identification, location and control technologies for the asset management market.
Your company uses cameras and RFID together to increase the accuracy of asset tracking systems. What prompted the development of this technology?
Working in the industry from its infant days, we found that using simple one-way RF beaconing tags (as common in the market today) simply won’t do it. The limitations of RF triangulation basically forbid high accuracy location when a 95% accuracy success rate and reasonable price tests are implemented. It just doesn’t work. We searched for a frequency that would give us low-cost, sub-meter accuracy. We found our solution with optics and the very short waves spectrum, combining them with traditional RF.
And there is much more the technology enables us to do today beyond asset location. The iLocate solution transforms the simple RTLS tags into an advanced Smart Agent™, making the tags able to receive remote, log-range command, execute functionality (like start and stop machines or open gates), receive user inputs, read sensors and ultimately functioning as a small, remotely controlled, wireless computer.
If you compare the iLocate system with common RF systems, you will find the core advantages of the technology are:
- Common RF accuracy combined with sub-meter high accuracy optical technology
- Extended features beyond location and identification via 2-Way data communication and specialized tags
- Low cost and low maintenance hardware create an affordable infrastructure without compromising performance.
In general terms, could you describe how the system works?
The iLocate™ system enables two levels of tag identification and location.
The first level is termed “proximity” and is similar in its nature to the traditional RF location method, adding to it zone accuracy flexibility and low-cost features.
Tags wake-up from their sleep mode when entering the range of an RF beacon device. The beacon device is a simple stand-alone RF transmitter, continuingly emitting its own ID into the air, with a pre-configured range. The beacon RF transmitting range sets the zone size. When sensing the beacon signal, the tag announces its own ID to the system, combined with the ID received from the beacon transmitter. By controlling the RF signal level of the beacon units and the identification of the receiving antennas and transponders, the system is able to determine the tag’s location. Because the beacon units are low-cost devices (not much more expensive then a simple tag) that do not require any infrastructure connectivity, they can be easily distributed on and around the facility floor, building accuracy zones as the nature of the area and application demands.
The second level of identification and location is termed “high-precision”. When sub-meter location accuracy is requested by the customer’s application, the tag switches to optical location mode and performs a high-accuracy location procedure. Under such procedure, the tag sends a request for an optical flashing time slot assignment from the system via RF. In turn, the tag turns on its optical signaling device and flashes at the appropriate time. The signal is received by an infrastructure of low-cost optical readers mounted above the monitored area and processed by the iLocate server. A typical high accuracy location operation lasts 100 milliseconds.
As the iLocate system uses a true 2-way, wireless data communication link between all the tags and the system, location operations can be initiated either by the tag (periodically or by over-the-air programmed events, such as movement) or by the system or user application. We find this methodology much more flexible and efficient compared with the market standard, where tags are simple transmitters, emitting their ID at pre defined (and not changeable remotely) time intervals.
Both location methods can be combined as needed – over the same or over different parts of a warehouse, production line or parking area.
What environmental factors make a facility a good candidate for a combined optical/RFID solution?
One of the goals when designing the iLocate technology was to rise above the Multi-Path phenomena in RF location. Due to the unique mixture of beacon based RF matrix and optical location we are proud to say that the iLocate system will fit-to-size in any working environment, no matter how non-RF-friendly it may be (such as metal constructions, interferences from existing Wi-Fi wireless network etc’). The system seamlessly supports indoor and outdoor functionality. As a result, no changes to the working environment are needed where system’s components are flexibly combined together to set a solution tailored for a specific customer application needs.
Basically, taking into consideration the low infrastructure costs introduced into the system and the implementation flexibility, even small-sized corporations can enjoy a boost in operational efficiency throughout the supply chain, increasing competitiveness, joining the world of real-time information and control.