The internet of things has changed, and continues to change, how we interact with the world. One of the biggest drivers of change is Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS). RTLS can be used to track everything from workers dealing with hazardous environments to medical devices to any small assets.
Traditionally, companies have used GPS to track their in-transit assets such as trucks. GPS remains a solid (if expensive) solution for long-distance tracking. A GPS can help plan a better ETA for cargo that is coming from across town and across the country. It can also help drivers choose a more efficient route and avoid traffic and other problems. Fleet tracking systems also allow driver efficiency to be analyzed and help ensure that drivers keep to time and hours rules while staying on schedule.
However, GPS is fairly imprecise, and it tends to fall down when the truck approaches the warehouse. This is where Bluetooth-based real-time locating systems come into play. Bluetooth asset tracking can integrate with GPS. They can take over, for example, when the truck enters a covered loading bay where satellite signals can’t reach. Bluetooth beacons can also be used to track individual pieces of cargo. Because of the precision, it is ideal for tracking heavy equipment used on an active site.
The primary advantage of Bluetooth beacons is that they bridge the gap between the long-distance tracking provided by GPS and RFID-based inventory control systems. Bluetooth beacons have a maximum range of around 70 meters (230 feet), although this can be adjusted downwards. This is considerably larger than RFID systems, which often require proximity. Also, an RFID’s range can be affected by physical obstacles.
There are some other advantages, including:
Bluetooth devices can work over different protocols, and which one you should use depends on several factors. The two most common protocols are Eddystone (Google) and iBeacon (Apple).
If you need compatibility with a large number of clients and vendors, 90% of companies support iBeacon. Also, the market share of Eddystone is growing rapidly. You should look at what other people in your industry are using but also make sure the protocol you choose supports your applications.
For on-site RTLS systems, you will need to deploy a beacon network on either a point or grid system. The more precise the system, the more expensive and complicated it is, but the easier it is to upgrade. For tracking heavy equipment on site, you generally need a less precise system and may find a point-based system that gives a more general idea sufficient.
However, if you are also tracking individual assets, you probably want to go with a grid system where beacons are placed on a grid and triangulate the object's location. This allows for true end-to-end asset tracking. This tracking system allows an asset to be tracked from the vendor's warehouse to your warehouse and back on the truck for delivery to the customer. Using a grid system also means your system is future-proofed: you can add applications without having to purchase more beacons or recode the system.
So, your end-to-end tracking system makes use of GPS for long trips, Bluetooth beacons for on-site and inventory tracking. How do you integrate these things?
The answer is that RTLS solutions are part of an ecosystem. Hardware solutions are only part of the picture. Software is how you bring everything together, interpret, consolidate and manage the potentially large quantities of data involved. Many RTLS infrastructures involve the use of smartphone apps to allow employees access to the system. Modern RFID readers generally connect to a smartphone; some NFC technologies use the smartphone's own hardware, but this generally requires touch proximity or close. However, Bluetooth beacons can be picked up on by smartphones at a decent range, allowing a standard phone to communicate with the system. This means that you need a good app that allows the right people access to the system.
The Internet of Things is part of the future. Real-time tracking systems are a way to use the IoT to handle in-transit asset tracking. You can make use of the Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) to ensure that trucks, equipment, and cargo can be tracked end to end, including in warehouse environments and other places where neither GPS nor RFID will do the job. Ultimately, the location dare will allow companies to operate more efficiently, significantly reduce loss, and improve safety (for example, by ensuring all the workers in the warehouse know exactly where the forklift is and what direction it is moving in)
Looking for greater returns on RTLS solutions? Compare the costs and possibilities of Bluetooth, RFID, and competing technologies: Download our whitepaper today.