By Kent Tabor, President, CTO and Founder, EmbedTek, LLC
The accuracy and reliability of Ultra-wideband (UWB) technology means that whatever application it is used for, you can be confident you have the best technology to detect a contact event. UWB is a wireless technology that uses radio frequency to measure distance precisely and securely over a short range. The nature of UWB is to always search for other UWB tags – whether they are worn on employees, installed in vehicles, or anchored to a ceiling to triangulate a precise location.
Before you get started on your own inventive application of UWB-based technology, consider the following factors.
Beware of the downsides
UWB technology does not come without disadvantages. The first has to do with radio waves. UWB uses low power, broad spectrum, and short pulses of radio frequency to penetrate walls and avoid electrical interference. But radio waves are absorbed by electrically conductive metals such as copper, aluminum, silver, and gold. They also are absorbed by water, including objects made up of water, such as humans. So UWB will penetrate drywall, for example, but not steel, or concrete.
EmbedTek learned firsthand that this makes UWB difficult to implement in a warehouse filled with dense racking. Our engineers considered avoiding racking by placing UWB anchors in the ceiling, but found some accuracy is lost because of the increased distance between the tags.
Another disadvantage is that UWB as compared to Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) requires more power to operate, mainly because it never turns off. It is always searching. This means tags would need to be recharged every 12 hours. In some applications it may make sense to use a combination of technologies such as Bluetooth to “bracket” the distance of other tags and then use UWB for an accurate distance calculation.
Consider how fast your tracked objects will be moving
UWB can tell if an object is stationary or moving, so it can track movements at various speeds. UWB is ideal for tracking rapid movements because of its transmission speed, precision, and reliability. One experiment confirmed UWB technology could accurately locate objects moving at 60km/hr. The speed at which your UWB application can track objects will depend on the maximum update rate and numbers of tags being communicating at the same time.
Consider the distance and environment between tracked objects
According to the UWB chip manufactures, UWB can communicate up to 100 meters. Actual reliable distance will be affected by the number of tags in an area, other RF interference and the environment between the tags. Open line-of-sight will provide the best performance and range. Dense obstructions between tags will substantially degrade performance.
Understand the difference between peer-to-peer and anchor technology
Peer-to-peer refers to moving targets that have a UWB tag – whether it is a person wearing a tag or an object containing one. Anchor technology is used for classic position control. Anchors are similar to tags but are stationary checkpoints. If you want to determine the X-Y location, anchors are the best solution but if the purpose is for collision avoidance, a peer-to-peer method may be much easier to implement.
Add infrastructure to create a 3D Space
When working on more than one plane, a combination of anchors and tags can be used for triangulation. A 3D space enables precision location capabilities, which can be used for asset management or collision prevention applications.
Improve performance by supplementing with other technologies
UWB can be used alongside other wireless communication technologies to get the best of all capabilities. Bluetooth, for example, consumes far less battery power than UWB. Let Bluetooth do the continuous searching for a tag, then, once it is located, use UWB to accurately measure distance. Many chipsets are available that include both technologies.
Approach standardized development kits with caution
Each application of UWB is unique, and standardized development kits can create unnecessary limitations. Third party engineering teams like EmbedTek can build a product based on UWB technology to solve a specific need. Our engineers also work with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and independent software vendors (ISVs) to take a concept or prototype based on UWB through an effective process from design and validation, to regulatory, manufacturing, and distribution.
With wider accessibility, UWB has the potential to improve safety, efficiency, and be cost effective across many industries. This white paper details the different ways UWB can be used today that reach far beyond the traditional use of asset management.
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