Which real-life problems can RTLS solve?
Real-time locating systems is a technology that has been among us for years. It helps to improve people and good flows and optimize public spaces, shopping malls and other buildings.
The technology is considered privacy compliant, especially compared to alternative technologies such as Bluetooth beacons.
In this article we will dive into types of RTLS, use cases, privacy and future developments of the technology.
Which real-life problems can RTLS Technology solve?
For example, did you know that an average warehouse worker wastes 6.9 weeks on unnecessary movement annually?
RTLS helps tracking and reducing unnecessary movement by double digit percent. or In transportation the unnecessary movement of material, product, or goods is a major waste factor. Some companies were able to achieve a 20% increase of warehouse utilization using RTLS and reduce the distances traveled by 10%.
To eliminate waste of assets, motion, transportation or storage, you need a sophisticated monitoring system capable of supplying process & performance data in near real-time.
It tracks people or assets moving through your buildings. The tracking enables you to locate, manage and optimize flows and usage of your people and assets.
RTLS is used in public spaces, shopping malls, health centers, airports and other buildings to improve people and good flows and usage.
Deploying RTLS technology is useful in many industries like healthcare, construction, manufacturing, transportation and agriculture.
With RTLS you can decrease the time to locate an asset and persons and move it to the desired location while at the same time increase accountability for the whereabouts.
In this guide we will dive into types of RTLS, use cases for RTLS, privacy and future outlook of the RTLS technology. We explain to you how you can introduce the technology in your organisation step by step
What is RTLS? A Definition.
With systems we refer to multiple types of technologies combined that identify objects or persons location in real time.
RTLS is not a specific type of system or technology. RTLS is a goal for organisations: track assets and people in buildings and use the information for various organisational goals.
The technology is often referred to as an Indoor Positioning System (IPS) as well.
Later in this guide we explain in detail how to formulate your goals and objectives for RTLS and start your first RTLS pilot project.
The next section is a bit technical. Do not worry. We keep it simple.👌
Three Types of RTLS Technologies
There are three types of RTLS variations: radio frequency, infrared and ultrasound.
Usage of radio frequency
The most common form of RTLS makes use of radio frequency communication. When changes are observed through the frequency, it is possible to identify a moving object. Radio frequency can also determine the distance to the object, creating a total overview of the RTLS’ reach.
Other types of RTLS make use of infrared, using warmth sensors to determine where and how objects move through an area. These are best equipped to handle smaller spaces to be accurate, whereas radiofrequency can cover larger spaces with ease.
Ultrasound sensors use sound waves that can not be heard by the human ear. Based on these waves, the system can determine where objects in the space are as the wave bounces back from objects. This determines the distance to the sensor and allows for ultrasound to locate objects.
Tracking objects using RTLS
The tracking of objects and people throughout a space is conducted using trackers.
There are several types of trackers available such as Active RFID, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy.
In this section we will dive into how these types of trackers work and look at their costs, accuracy and estimated battery life. Do note that, with continuous innovations, these items will be optimized and improved overtime.
Trackers that make use of Active RFID are equipped with a small battery and have a long range. The range goes up to 100 meters and the battery allows for broadcasting across this range.
Active RFID cards come at a higher cost compared to passive RFID, as the battery and broadcasting device need to be integrated.
Passive RFID offers an attractive alternative to active in cases where quantity of components is high, or costs of individual products are low.
● The tags need to be read by external devices and have a range of approximately 10 meters.
● This also limits the applicability of passive RFID for certain use cases where distance is needed.
These tags can leverage the existing Wi-Fi network present, making them appealing to certain industries.
For example, in public spaces such as town halls and hospitals, Wi-Fi is present in all rooms.
Wi-Fi tags can leverage these networks and can be implemented with ease.
However, compared to Bluetooth beacons, the sensors do consume more energy and thus come with a higher investment.
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
The Bluetooth sensors have been introduced in 2010 and are developed to consume a very limited amount of energy. This makes them a very appealing sensor for a wide variety of RTLS use cases.
+ A single sensor can last for several years on a very small battery.
+ The manufacturing process of these Bluetooth sensors are simple and straightforward. The result: effective and low-cost sensors that can be leveraged throughout RTLS use cases.
+ The reading distance of these devices is like Wi-Fi and equals approximately four meters.
Zigbee is another wireless standard that shows similarities with Bluetooth Low Energy. It does come with the advantage that it has an improved range, which is greater than Bluetooth’s range.
However, the technology is also less reliable.
Zigbee is a simple technology and can thus be offered for competitive prices.
This makes it an accessible technology for the use of RTLS.
Quality of trackers
The quality of the trackers differs due to their technological nature and the materials used. For example, trackers can be manufactured to be waterproof and UV-resistant, increasing the complexity and in turn the costs.
The trackers can be enhanced with advanced sensors.
For example temperature sensors that submit room temperature.
It is important to determine the use case before selecting the trackers
Trackers and RTLS hardware
For an RTLS to work, the tracking devices need to communicate with hardware from the RTLS. Devices that communicate with trackers are known as anchors, which can be placed at strategic locations of the space (or building).
As became evident from the types of trackers, the number of anchors is dependent on the trackers used.
When using active RFID, less anchors are needed to cover a vast space. Whilst with passive RFID and BLE more anchors are needed.
Master and slave anchors
When deploying a real-time locating system there is a need for both master and slave anchors.
Master anchors are located strategically and collect data from slave anchors and send it to the server.
The server can then conduct analysis and share the data with the systems and software programs that need it.
Slave anchors are the ‘eyes’ of the system and detect the trackers and share the exact location of them with the master anchors.
The typical hardware setup for a hospital to track 1000 assets is:
Benefits, Value & Advantages of RTLS.
RTLS provides tremendous value to your organization.
The visibility and information RTLS provides is highly actionable data.
Typical benefits of RTLS include:
1 . Streamlined and efficient processes: resulting in improved throughput, staff & resource utilization and error-proofing
3 . Informed decision-making: faster, more efficient information distribution enables staff to react quicker and management to plan better.
4 . Maintenance and compliance: RTLS creates a complete record on assets and possibly stores critical information on the objects. You can ensure government, industry or customer compliance (e.g. cleaning).
5 . New service opportunities: you can develop new offerings (and revenue generating opportunities) while passing the benefits of your RTLS data to your customers.
6 . Reduction in capital expenditure: Reduction in capital expenditure: Utilizing assets and staff more efficiently, your organisation will most likely need significant less assets in the long run.
We personally experience this more than once: loosing our keys, phone or other important belongings.
How convenient if we can easily track this and see where the items are. RTLS makes this possible for a broad range of industries. For example, the technology is being used throughout hospitals to understand locations of beds, wheelchairs and other equipment that is relevant.
When an item is lost, staff can easily track it and pick it up. This limits the loss of equipment and improves the usage rate of the devices.
Setting up a real-time locating system
Chances are, you’ve never set up a Real Time Location System (RTLS).
Here is a step by step guide on how to get started.
Overall our best advice is to start small, but with a vision in mind.
1. Define your business case with clear goals
This step entails two parts: gathering information & defining the goal.
Before any RTLS deployment, define the needs and objectives for your organization. Identity problems in need of solutions or complex processes that can not be optimized with observation.
There are two ways to identify the problem: using existing data to find areas of inefficiencies. This can be usage data from machines, check-in data from people in existing systems but also financial data.
Another way is to conduct questionnaires and interviews with staff members to investigate e.g. how much time is wasted on tasks that do not add value (e.g. search time, walking time).
Depending on your industry or vertical your business case can be tracking assets and cutting search times. In others, it may be identifying bottlenecks in people flows or reassigning people or assets during prime or down times.
The more information you have, the better you are able to scope and calculate the Return Of Investment (ROI) of your RTLS project.
The typical problems in hospitals we have helped solve with RTLS:
1 . Reduction of equipment tracking time per staff member by 95%
2 . On-time and predictable Maintenance of medical equipment
3 . Reduction on Capital Expenditures on medical equipment by up to 20%
4 . Increased quality nursing time
5 . Increased job satisfaction of nurses
6 . Hospital management was able to make informed decisions about future equipment investments as well as maintenance of existing equipment
2. Scope your RTLS project
Many times the possibilities of RTLS can be overwhelming. Our clear advice is to start with one goal and a concise business case at a time. The technology side is one aspect of RTLS but the human side can not be ignored.
Your staff needs to be trained and learn how to use the new RTLS capabilities and get used to new efficiencies and possibilities.
By scoping the project correctly, you ensure that the RTLS project is well received and the technology is embedded in the workflows of your staff.
The success of the project is dependent on how familiar your staff become with the solutions.
For example, in healthcare asset tracking your project scope can be only one type of asset, one building and a selected group of staff members.
When starting your first RTLS project, the key is to scope large enough for measurable impact and small enough for fast implementation, staff adaptation and results.
Assets tracking in hospitals usually scope X assets
3. Select the right technology, software, hardware & vendors
You are now ready to start selecting technology, software & hardware.
Elaborating on every aspect of this step goes beyond this guide. We will publish a detailed guide about this step in the near future. For now, we only want to list important considerations:
– Which technology fits my use case?
– Hardware Specifications needed
– Implementation time and costs
– Pricing / Licensing
– Server and Workstation Requirements
– Integration with existing hardware and software
– Reporting, Dashboards and Analytics
– Ongoing Support and Maintenance
– Security and Data Protection
– Vendor Specific Information
If you need advice, please feel free to contact us. We are happy to help you.
We offer a low cost RTLS test kit. You can track up to 20 assets and build a solid business case in no time.
5. Calculate Return On Investment
A typical ROI calculation looks like this:
=> BC tabel
4. Start small & build an Ecosystem
Why start small?
First of all it means less risk and investment. The ROI is more measurable and the time to attain ROI will be much shorter.
Further, it provides a real world experience for staff and management. Once the value of RTLS is proven, justification for further investment is much easier.
Asset tracking is one aspect of RTLS. In hospitals, tracking location of key staff members, patients and combining those with important assets will drastically increase the efficiency of healthcare in the near future.
When starting your project keep in mind that tracking beyond assets, what data is tracked and combining information is important. You are building an RTLS eco-system for your organisation.
best advice for First Time RTLS projects:
Our best advice for First Time RTLS projects:
1. Opt for a Plug and play solution for your first project.
2. Choose a solution to up and down scalability any time.
3. Make sure that the solution is at least end-to-end encrypted.
4. Involve the end-users as early as possible for maximum impact.
Do you want to start to track assets?
Scaling a real-time locating system
After the initial trial, we know that your organisation wants to scale.
The use cases of RTLS technology for indoor use are endless.
This makes it a favourable investment for businesses across industries.
Building an ecosystem
Businesses are constantly changing and so should the systems that support them. When certain changes happen (e.g. new facilities, increase in volumes) the system should be able to support the changing business demands.
By actively improving the system through continuous improvement it can keep up with the business needs. This also holds true for the database storage. With increased volumes, the needs of the organization can change, and more capacity is needed. Being able to easily scale is of essence to support the organization.
For example, our system is using an IoT backbone that allows various vendors to join in.
When utilizing (public) cloud solutions it becomes more convenient to scale. In periods of high volume and increased throughput, the server capacity can be easily scaled as it exists virtually with the cloud provider. This can be extremely helpful and saves costs as storage and compute is cheaper than having your own servers.
Public cloud can also help to process the data and retrieve insights from them. Cloud providers provide ready-to-use machine learning algorithms that can be used to analyse the data.
When you want to train the data, you can increase the computing power needed automatically. Hereby the organization only needs to pay for the resources they need and scale up and down accordingly.
Data Analytics that create actions using RTLS
As you can imagine, RTLS is collecting loads of data that can be analyzed in real-time or at a later stage.
The key for any RTLS system is that it provides data to the right person at the right time.
Good example: a patient is on his way in an ambulance and needs immediate care involving a medical specialist and two very specific pieces of equipment. Using an RTLS application a nurse can locate the piece of equipment in just seconds as well as know about the location of the specialists and make sure that everything is ready when the patient arrives.
Further, these analytics can be automated using machine learning and A.I. technology, reducing manual actions to a minimum.
Making real time information available to staff members is a key ingredient to make your RTLS system successful. Tracking data is great, providing this data to the right people at the right time is ideal.
Tooling for analytics
Data analysts and data scientists can create models based on this data to improve processes. With the rise of powerful Business Intelligence (BI) and data science tooling, it becomes easier to analyse data and understand the relations.
Asset management is key in healthcare.
All critical equipment should function properly. With advanced analytics, hospitals can prevent equipment failures by monitoring usage and scheduling required maintenance.
RTLS and Privacy
With the technology being deployed, one could argue that it does not come without privacy implications.
This is indeed true, depending on the nature of its usage as well as the storage locations.
For public spaces, people that are being tracked remain anonymous. By using infrared or radio frequency, no pictures are taken of people that could identify them as a specific individual. This limits privacy concerns from a GDPR perspective.
In hospitals and healthcare, the benefits far outweigh the privacy concerns.
Would you rather be dead or tracked? Medical staff usually embrace the technology as RTLS creates enormous efficiencies and thus better healthcare for patients.
Nurses and doctors happily trade privacy for patient care. What about other industries? We have little experience with other industries and would love to hear from other industries. Contact us if you want to contribute!
Data storage and retention
Another element that is linked to privacy concerns is the storage and retention of the data.
If the data is retrieved from a public building such as a hospital, for how long can it be stored? Often, organizations decide to store the data for a short period of time. In these cases, the data is only utilized to do real-time tracking of people. If more advanced analytics are desired, storage needs to be extended.
Furthermore, data from multiple RTLS need to be combined to conduct these analyses.
Conducting complex analytics from a collection of RTLS requires a central data storage. When it comes to closed public spaces, this data is typically gathered by the government. Although there are no direct personal privacy concerns, security advocates do note the possibility of governments to monitor the society’s behavior and adjust according to their needs. This can be regarded as a valid point; however, the use cases of the technology prove not to be significant behavior-adjusting to do harm to society.
Respecting personal privacy
The upside of this technology is the respect of personal privacy when storing data. As the sensors cannot identify personal individuals, it is a desired tracking system being used by companies and governmental bodies.
By using the sensors, they comply with GDPR and can still conduct the relevant tracking to improve office and public spaces.
In turn, it would technically be possible to trace an individual when using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi as trackers. Devices have a unique identifier that transmit these signals, which can be saved. This data should then be combined with other data that links to this device. However, this would be very hard as this typically does not include personal information.
Where is RTLS being used?
Where is my equipment?
We personally experience this more than once: losing our keys, phone or other important belongings.
How convenient if we can easily track this and see where the items are.
RTLS makes this possible for a broad range of industries.
For example, the technology is being used throughout hospitals to understand locations of beds, wheelchairs and other equipment that is relevant. When an item is lost, staff can easily track it and pick it up. This limits the loss of equipment and improves the usage rate of the devices.
Use of RTLS in healthcare
When it comes to healthcare, the use of RTLS does not stop with tracking the locations of beds and wheelchairs. The technology is also being used to track processes and being able to better understand and improve them.
Using these locations, the technology also comes in handy for infection control and the reporting of compliance to governmental organisations and other institutions.
We have built in sensors
The applications revolve around tracking assets and people to make sure the hospitals, nursing homes and other health institutions remain safe and shortages are prevented.
Once RTLS is deployed in a hospital the data can be used for a variety of analytics.
For example, to track hygiene compliance or contact tracing. Data of patients can be used to track unapproved access. This is a common situation when Alzheimer or dementia patients leave their room and walk around the facilities unattended. RTLS can immediately identify this and notify the staff immediately.
RTLS proves to be a useful means to track people and assets in a closed environment.
For example, radio frequency only has limited reach, which makes it undesirable to be used in large open spaces.
Tracking tagged objects
RTLS is often used in warehouses and manufacturing plants to track the movement of goods.
This data can be used to improve the overall efficiency and create a real-time understanding of the plant’s status. Objects that can be tracked are equipped with special trackers that correspond to Unique Identifiers (UIDs) in the RTLS.
Hereby the system can provide a real-time overview of all the sensors that are within the sensor’s reach.
In complex automated warehouses the technology proves to be very useful to increase efficiency and to identify pain points in the overall operation.
Adjusting behavior of visitors
With RTLS it is possible to conduct A/B tests with furniture inside offices and shopping malls.
For example, if you want to improve the flow through a building, you can adjust the furniture positioning.
Additionally, this A/B testing method with RTLS can be applied to stores.
For example, how can shelves and flows of people be optimized to increase the overall store revenue?
These methods flow from scientific research but prove to be very useful to increase revenue and people flows across the world.
Do you want to start to track assets?
RTLS Use Cases
The technology proves particularly useful when it is combined into an ecosystem. By combining data that flows from RTLS, it is possible to create an overview of people and good flows that will serve the total operations.
In this section we will look at a variety of use cases for RTLS that are currently in production.
Optimize office spaces
RTLS trackers can be added to office spaces to understand the behavior of employees throughout the office space. This not only helps to understand the flow of people, but also provides real-time data on the occupancy rate.
Using this occupancy rate, companies can determine if they need to use more workspaces. If they need to downscale, the technology also provides guidance on which workspaces to cut.
Signage in the office can be added to improve the flow and ensure the occupancy of spots that are usually empty. Data that flows from these changes can be used again for further optimization.
Hereby the overall occupancy rate of the office can be optimized. This is a continuous process as the behavior of office workers changes over time.
Smart badges in office spaces and other buildings
Offices can be made smart by using badges equipped with a tracker. This allows for the identification of employees in specific areas, which can be helpful for safety.
On the other hand, it can bring a seamless experience to office workers.
There is no need for barriers any longer, they will remain open if the trackers are identified. When a tracker is not identified a gate can close, similar to what happens in the subways in Japan.
Collecting goods in a warehouses
In warehouses, goods are collected onto a tray or pallet to be sent to the customers. In the past, manual checks were needed by staff to see if all the products were loaded onto the pallet. With the use of RTLS this became a thing of the past. Product trays are being equipped with a tracking device, making it possible to immediately scan all the trays on the pallet.
Hereby the staff knows exactly if all the items are present and can handle accordingly.
Tracking and routing through warehouses
Baggage Handling Systems (BHS) are advanced and complex networks of machines and conveyor belts that transport luggage on airports. When you check in your luggage at the airport, it flows through a complex landscape of security checks and dozens of conveyor belts before it ends up at the airplane. You can imagine that it requires tracking to make sure the luggage ends up at the right belt.
Real-time locating systems can help to conduct this tracking, making sure your luggage arrives at the airport on-time for your departure.
Logistics process in the harbor
Major use cases of real-time locating systems can be found in the ports around the world. These technologies enable the tracking of containers through the clearing process. This allows the employees to have a complete overview of all containers and their respective contents. Bill of Ladings can be added to the tracker automatically, allowing for this view to become available.
Not only does this provide an accurate overview of all the containers in the port, it can also be used for process optimization. Tracking in-between process steps is possible and bottlenecks can be identified.
Process improvements can be created to tackle the bottlenecks, improving the overall port performance.
Illegal goods detection in ports
For governments and port authorities it is beneficial to have a complete overview of the port activities. This helps them to combat the smuggling of illegal goods into the country. Analytical models can be built upon the data that is retrieved from the trackers. Once a container with illegal goods is detected, it can be labelled in the data. Using these labels, machine learning algorithms can learn from the real-time locating systems.
When a new container flows in, the algorithms can provide a prediction of the likelihood a container contains illegal goods based on its variables. With more containers flowing in and out, the algorithm becomes better. When the prediction is enough, it can be deployed on the real-time locating systems to give an immediate prediction. This helps the officers in the port to perform checks more efficiently. By focusing resources using these algorithms, more illegal goods can be detected with less resources needed.
Emergency situations in closed spaces
Imagine a fire alarm going off inside an office space. Companies have procedures in place to help their employees exit the building fast and safe. A selection of employees holds the responsibility to guide them and make sure a smooth emergency exit is carried out. However, how can we be sure that all people safely left the building?
Using RTLS, office managers and selected employees can track the presence of people in the spaces and act accordingly. This not only helps in situations of a fire, but also when natural disasters such as an earthquake happen.
Besides emergency situations, the technology can also help you detect such a situation.
For example, when unwanted guests breach the perimeter. The system is then able to provide a notification allowing for a prompt follow-up. This allows for continuous monitoring of locations that are of (strategic) importance for governments and businesses.
Ensuring service levels across industries
Companies want to adhere to the service levels that are being promised to customers. For example, hotel chains would like to have a ratio of X to Y number of people that need assistance. A similar situation is present in supermarkets, where they would like to have at least the minimum occupancy of cashiers available.
The same technique is being utilized in public facilities such as correctional facilities. The number of guards is being monitored to ensure the desired safety level is always adhered to. This data can be shared among other facilities to share learnings and effectiveness of certain measures. This will help to improve the overall efficiency across facilities.
Monitoring the quality of goods
Quality is another key element where real-time locating systems can come to the rescue. This especially holds true for special cargo that requires attention throughout the journey.
A good example is temperature-sensitive cargo. By accurately tracking the location of goods you can monitor its state. When an unexpected situation occurs, you can act immediately upon the cargo that matters.
RTLS in the battle against pandemics
Among the many use cases that RTLS can help with, we see that it can tackle a lot of problems we are currently facing. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it has proven useful for the tracking of people in public areas as well as buildings such as offices and shopping malls.
A good example is temperature-sensitive cargo.
By accurately tracking the location of goods you can monitor its state.
When an unexpected situation occurs, you can act immediately upon the cargo that matters.
Do you want to start to track assets?
Shaping governmental policies
For governments, this proves to be a useful tool to monitor the overall compliance to safety measures and create policy accordingly. Increasingly, RTLS is being used to help companies and governments to shape policies that resolve around these issues.
Testing measures taken
Shopping malls and other buildings can create signage and furniture to ensure the flow and distance between people. Using data from RTLS, the effectiveness of these measures can be monitored.
If needed, adjustments can be made, and the impact can be measured real-time when looking at the systems. The continuous optimization allows for safer public spaces in times of pandemics.
When countries slowly open-up for work in the office, the technology can be used to understand where people work. This helps to ensure the required distance between people, as well as optimization of the overall workspace.
For example, it can help to ensure that every area in the office has a maximum capacity and act accordingly. Office managers can monitor the data and attend people on the required distance.
The information can also be used to further optimize the locations of workspaces to ensure a safe work environment. In this article we have explored what a real-time locating system is, and which technologies support it. We discussed the components of such a system including the trackers, master and slave anchors and the supporting systems (e.g. servers, databases and software).
Next the use cases have been explored which widely and cross industry boundaries. This not only proves the business case, but also shows the technical feasibility of RTLS. Besides tracking, the systems make it possible to perform analytics and improve processes while considering privacy. RTLS are a very useful technology and its use cases will grow with technological developments in the future.
BETTER USE OF PUBLIC MONEY
[ Founder and ceo Gery Pollet ]
‘Let’s reduce operating cost and create more happiness by putting data to work, for an affordable price. Blyott is here to empower ambitious health organisations to become a great place to work and future proof.’