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Real time location systems are the new buzz in RFID

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A new acronym is being banded around the RFID world - that of RTLS. What is a real time location system (RTLS)?

The simplest definition I have come across is that it is a system of finding the position of assets using active RFID tags. The tags broadcast a signal, which is received by three reader antennas. The time each signal is received is passed on to a software system that uses triangulation to calculate the location of the asset.

At the beginning of August I had a briefing with Josh Slobin, director of marketing at AeroScout, one of the pioneers in RTLS.

AeroScout was founded in 1999 and, from May 2007, has its headquarters in Redwood City, California. Its research and development is done in Israel. AeroScout has 125 employees currently spread across USA, Europe, Japan, Israel, and Australia. Slobin said about 50 per cent of the company's revenue comes from North America with some 15-20 per cent each from both Europe and Asia Pacific.

The firm's elevator pitch states: "AeroScout complete visibility solutions use standard wireless networks to accurately locate assets, and utilise that location to improve business processes". The company introduced the industry's first Wi-Fi-based Active RFID tag in 2003. It has become the market leader in RTLS based on Wi-Fi.

Why use Wi-Fi? Slobin explained that this enables hospitals (one of their major customer targets) to reduce their costs by up to 50 per cent. One of the issues I had previously come across when implementing RFID on existing networks was that it had seriously affected performance of the original applications that used the network. I asked Slobin about this. He explained that tags only sent out a minute message as large amounts of information were not held on the tag. Slobin reckoned that there is generally less than a one per cent increase in traffic using the AeroScout solution on existing Wi-Fi networks.

So now let's us look at the AeroScout visibility solution components:

  • AeroScout's Wi-Fi-based Active RFID Tags are small, battery-powered wireless devices for locating and tracking any asset or person. They use standard Wi-Fi networks to track assets and people in real time, in any environment from indoor to open outdoor locations. The T2 Tag is the market leader in Wi-Fi tags, due its long battery life, convenient small size and built-in choke point capabilities. It is ideal for tracking high volumes of assets across a wide range of environments. The T3 Tag combines a streamlined flat form factor with long battery life, two call buttons, motion and temperature detection and tamper-proofing. It is ideal for use as a personnel badge and for IT asset tracking. The choke point feature is a unique capability currently. All the AeroScout tags are dual in that they have a built-in passive tag exciter which works at 125 KHz.
  • The Exciter is an optional component that triggers AeroScout's tags as they pass through a choke point to transmit a message that is received by a standard Wi-Fi Access Point or AeroScout Location Receiver. This provides instant knowledge that a tagged asset or person passed through a gate, doorway or some other tightly defined area. This enables RFID-style tag detection, telemetry message retrieval and other functions. To get directionality, one would need to implement 2 Exciters slightly offset from one another at a chokepoint.
  • The AeroScout Location Receiver is an optional component that extends the AeroScout Visibility System to outdoor and difficult environments. AeroScout Location Receivers provide location measurement capabilities packaged in small devices designed for harsh conditions. It receives transmissions and executes radio signal measurements and calculations that are sent to the AeroScout Engine software.
  • The AeroScout Engine is a software component of the AeroScout Visibility System, which enables location-based applications in a standard wireless LAN environment. The AeroScout Engine processes information received from wireless Access Points to produce location and presence data for assets tagged with AeroScout's Wi-Fi-based Active RFID Tags.
  • AeroScout MobileView turns asset location information received from multiple location data sources into real business solutions, delivering mapping, rules-based alerting and reporting functions. With MobileView, developers and end users can apply their own rules and business logic to location information, leveraging their positioning data for intuitive applications.

The AeroScout system utilises standard wireless networks from multiple leading networking vendors for its communications, keeping the infrastructure cost low and enabling enterprises to gain more benefit from their existing WLAN. AeroScout have developed a close partnership with Cisco. AeroScout tags and software are integrated with the Cisco wireless infrastructure, so that customers can use the standard WLAN for wireless data, voice communications and location-based services.

In May 2007, AeroScout announced a close tie up with Cisco that involves AeroScout Tags using the CCX tag format to communicate with the Cisco Unified Wireless Network, which is also integrated with AeroScout's MobileView. This integration includes full compatibility for multiple advanced features such as wireless sensors, data telemetry, call-button messaging and choke point detection through AeroScout's Exciter product.

In March 2007, AeroScout announced it had secured $21m in Series C funding led by Menlo Ventures. Both Menlo Ventures and Greylock Partners have joined the AeroScout investor syndicate in this round, and existing investors Star Ventures, Pitango, Cisco Systems and Intel Capital also participated. AeroScout will use the funding to expand its sales and marketing function in order to capitalise on its success within the key sectors of healthcare, manufacturing, and logistics. It will also utilise the funds to expand its presence in growing international markets. In addition, the funds will support product development.

For anyone needing to solve a business issue around the visibility of key assets and people, AeroScout offer a solution that has a proven track record combined with an innovative product set. In addition its partner network includes a number of well-known companies, like HP. The additional finance should ensure that AeroScout gains better penetration into a growing market.

Copyright © 2007, IT-Analysis.com

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