Articles


RTLS and Bluetooth Low Energy:
unconventional use cases


Introduction

RTLS (Real-Time Location Systems) appear to be increasingly important in the most varied contexts. The areas in which their implementation is increasingly necessary include industry, healthcare, logistics and intelligent buildings. Such systems provide the ability to locate and track the position of objects, people or resources within a physical space in real time. RTLS systems can be developed using different technologies, including Bluetooth Low Energy and compatible technologies.
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), as already explained in a previous article, is a low-power wireless communication technology. Bluetooth Low Energy was born with the initial goal of providing a radio standard specifically optimized for communication between intelligent devices over short distances, with low cost, reduced bandwidth, low power and low complexity, and this is why it turns out to be an extremely versatile technology for the implementation of RTLS systems.
The acronym RTLS refers to a Real-Time Location System, i.e. a hardware/software infrastructure based on IoT (Internet of Things) technologies that allows to identify, locate and track assets or people present in a given context. Read the article Real-Time Location Systems: what they are and what advantages they can bring for further information.

RTLS find application in different contexts:
RTLS in healthcare: tracking and managing assets or resources within a hospital means monitoring medical equipment, devices, surgical instruments and even operators in some cases. The main goal of asset tracking is to optimize operational efficiency, improve asset management and ensure that the necessary tools and equipment are always available when and where needed.
RTLS in warehouses and logistics: developing an asset tracking system means always knowing where to find a certain asset, box or pallet, and therefore reducing losses and costs and reduce search times, thus speeding up and making processes more efficient, and minimizing errors.
Desk, room and office occupancy monitoring: the implementation of RTLS within buildings offers a series of advantages, from better resource management to improving productivity and overall employee experience. Collecting and analyzing space usage data can guide strategic decisions to create a more efficient and satisfying environment for everyone.
RTLS for safety: RTLS offer a number of significant benefits for improving worker safety in a variety of contexts. Firstly, these systems allow constant and real-time monitoring of the position of workers within a work site, which is especially crucial in high-risk environments such as industrial or construction, where sudden accidents can occur. With RTLS, safety managers can quickly pinpoint a worker location in the event of an emergency or accident, enabling immediate interventions and reducing response times.
In addition to the most common use cases, there are applications that we could define as unconventional, which have emerged with the expansion of IoT and RTLS technologies. The increasingly widespread interconnection of devices and the ability to track assets in real time are giving rise to new perspectives of use. IoT and RTLS technologies are therefore overcoming traditional application boundaries, stimulating innovation and offering solutions to solve complex challenges in multiple sectors.

Unconventional use cases


Robot localization for safety

Safety is a key priority for many organizations, and the use of robots to perform patrol is becoming increasingly common to monitor and manage complex environments.
This case study explores the implementation of a system, based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology, to locate security robots within a building.
A customer asked to BlueUp to develop a system that would allow him to precisely and continuously monitor the position of autonomous surveillance robots, to automatically manage the alarm sensor system. The project was created by installing a TinyGateway BLE WiFi device on each robot, powered directly by the latter's battery. The gateway is configured to connect to the company WiFi network, automatically managing the transition between the different Access Points.
The battery powered fixed beacons (Ultra Zero BLE in indoor areas, Brick BLE in outdoor areas) were then positionedthey were installed in various strategic points of the structure, in correspondence with the areas monitored by the various alarm sensors. As the robot approaches each of these areas, the TinyGateway detects proximity from the beacon. The information is sent in real time, via the WiFi network, to the control entrance which manages the individual sensors, depending on the position of the robot itself, in order to avoid false alarms during the patrol route.
In the most common use cases, the gateways are the objects that remain stationary and the beacons are the ones that move, but in this case the operating logic is reversed: the BLE gateway is mobile and scans the surrounding fixed beacons, reversing the traditional paradigm. In this way, the gateways, which are devices that must necessarily be powered, can exploit the power coming from the robot's battery, with minimal impact on the robot's autonomy thanks to the reduced consumption of the TinyGateway.
The integration and customization of BlueUp technologies has led to an innovative and scalable approach to address the challenges of surveillance in complex environments, representing a significant advancement in the field of security, combining energy efficiency, precision and responsiveness in a single integrated solution.

Dynamic work islands

The client company produces highly customized technological components with batch sizes of one unit, for which it is created an ad hoc work island for each new production. Needing to track dedicated human resources and processing times in detail, the company expressed the need for a completely wireless system, capable of monitoring processing times in the work cell for each employee.
Initially, it was considered to use RFID technology to achieve these goals. However, this option was ruled out as it would have required the installation of over 100 RFID readers. Furthermore, the need to power the RFID readers was not compatible with the need for flexibility necessary to guarantee the continuous remodeling of the work islands (which typically occurs on a weekly basis, but in some cases even more frequently).
Consequently, a system that exploits proximity logic was designed and developed. This system is based on Wirepas Mesh 2.4GHz technology (characterized by a cableless and wireless architecture) and adopts MeshCube as a data management and acquisition platform. The system involves the installation of a fixed device with "anchor" function (Forte+ Wirepas ) at each workstation, and the provision of a device provided with button (SafeX Lite Wirepas ) to each operator. When an operator goes to the work cell to start a production cycle, he can simply press the SafeX Lite button to signal the start of the work. This action activates the device, which notifies the identifier of the closest anchor, associated with the work cell where the operator is located. Via the wireless mesh protocol, based on multi-hop communication through the infrastructure anchors, the notification is propagated up to the MeshCube software. With this signal, the start of the production cycle is therefore recorded at the workstation marked by the anchor. Similarly, the operator, with a double press of the button, signals the end (or suspension) of the activities. This all happens with an infrastructure that does not require any type of cabling, and which can be modified by simply moving the mesh anchors.
Thanks to the custom APIs developed on the MeshCube platform, the data is sent to the company MES (Manufacturing Execution System), which in this way automatically accesses the presence data of each operator in the work cell, and estimates the total time spent in the production of each piece. The system reduced the time necessary for data acquisition on the MES by 95% compared to the starting situation.

Video surveillance in gyms

The installation of a video surveillance system inside gyms is particularly useful and important, especially considering the growing diffusion of structures open 24 hours a day. In particular, for gyms of the latter type, it is essential to adopt an effective video surveillance system. A well-designed video surveillance system allows to constantly monitor the activity within the gym, providing detailed control during all hours of day and night.
During the night hours, it is essential to minimize the need for personnel physically present in the room, while still ensuring complete surveillance.
An optimal approach could include the presence of a single employee on guard, responsible for monitoring the cameras that are automatically activated when movement is detected. Furthermore, the use of devices capable of monitoring movement, and therefore the actual use of machinery or the flow of users in the various areas, can help monitor the operational efficiency of the gym. This information can be useful for optimizing the organization of spaces, improving the services offered and better satisfying user needs.
Our client, a system integrator who works for a chain of gyms open 24 hours a day, turned to BlueUp with the need to develop a system able to manage the control room panel at night, in order to highlight the images coming from cameras that frame the gym machines that are used at a given moment.
To satisfy this request, it was decided to proceed by connecting the cameras to a Bluetooth LE detection system, based on a network of antennas (TinyGateway BLE PoE) and on an infrastructure of BLE tags (TagX BLE) installed on each piece of equipment. Thanks to the integrated accelerometer that detects tool vibrations, the BLE tag transmits status information in the BLE advertising package. The centralized software (based on the LocateBLE platform) receives packets from the various connected antennas and, via API, sends the information to the software that manages the video surveillance system. The association between BLE tag, machinery and cameras, carried out in advance during the system setup phase, allows the reference images to be identified and brought to the foreground in the control room.
The developed system provides a simple way to ensure safety in the gym. At the same time, the system was also used to collect data regarding the rate of use of individual machines, providing a set of information that was not available to the gym manager.

With these use case examples we have seen how Bluetooth Low Energy can be used in the most varied contexts and how it can satisfy the most varied needs, being a flexible, economical and scalable technology.
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