RTLS and beyond: An introduction to Unified Asset Visibility

Industrial Embedded Systems — September 22, 2008

7What if the real-time location, condition, and status information of all assets throughout an entire organization could be managed by one central system? In this overview, Gabi examines the emerging concept of Unified Asset Visibility (UAV) and describes how this technology is being implemented to meet enterprise challenges.

RTLS use has grown significantly as organizations across a variety of industries have implemented active RFID technology based on Wi-Fi networks to track business assets and improve efficiency. While RTLS continues to boost companies' bottom lines, UAV is advancing the next stage in the evolution of tracking technology. By combining location, condition, and status data about mobile assets from traditionally disparate systems into a single solution, UAV is enabling enterprises to streamline business processes and achieve greater productivity than ever before.

The need for more comprehensive data

The inability to see critical assets presents a problem with substantial business impact. Throughout many industries, organizations have started to recognize a need for visibility that goes beyond location to include status, identity, and sensor data. For example, a nurse who needs to immediately locate an infusion pump will want to know if the pump is in use or needs repair or cleaning. In other cases, monitoring and alerting operations require knowledge of the asset's condition, such as its temperature, humidity, or pressure.

Organizations have complex needs that often require a combination of visibility methods for multiple uses. For example, whereas a pervasive Wi-Fi RFID system excels at tracking assets across large enterprise facilities, Ultra Wide-Band (UWB) succeeds at providing very high accuracy in contained areas that do not cover the whole organization, while passive RFID is best for automatically identifying consumable items.

Deploying visibility systems has been a challenging endeavor for organizations, given the disparate infrastructures and networks needed to address their unique business demands (stand-alone systems for sensors, Wi-Fi, UWB, or passive RFID). Up until now, each technology required its own network and software; thus, organizations had to integrate all of these software pieces into a variety of applications without any common denominator or central repository for enterprise visibility data. In short, gaining true enterprise visibility was an expensive and complex prospect.

Unifying wireless system capabilities

Today, organizations seeking to cost-effectively merge all of their asset location and status data into one platform can implement UAV, which brings disparate visibility systems together in a unified wireless system that automates business processes and delivers context-aware applications.

UAV provides true enterprise visibility by combining various details about valuable mobile assets, including location (indoor and outdoor RTLS), auto-identification (active and passive RFID), and status/condition (sensors and telemetry). This enables customers to choose the technologies that fit their needs and utilize multiple visibility applications over a unified Wi-Fi network.

Business logic automation

AeroScout's MobileView 4.0 (Figure 1) integrates asset visibility information received from multiple data sources, including Wi-Fi RFID, passive RFID, UWB, GPS, and third-party applications into a single view to enable better business decisions.

Figure 1

With a distributed architecture and capacity for tens of thousands of assets, MobileView can help large enterprise users accurately manage a variety of assets. Using the scalable software platform's mapping and rules-based alerting and reporting functions, developers and end users can apply their own rules and business objectives to visibility information, allowing them to leverage their data for efficient and intuitive applications in many different industries.

Health care, manufacturing, logistics, and other industries can benefit from implementing UAV. To illustrate the potential advantages, consider a hospital that deploys a UAV system.

In this application, Wi-Fi RFID tracks medical devices throughout the entire campus using the existing Wi-Fi network. Chokepoint devices immediately alert staff about wandering trauma patients who leave the ward unattended or enter restricted areas. Passive RFID tracks specimen and small instruments in operating rooms. Integrated RFID tags report the operational status of medical devices and the temperature of refrigerators and freezers that store sensitive items, as well as enable cold-chain monitoring for pharmaceutical products in transport. GPS and Wi-Fi technologies simplify casualty identification and tracking in disaster emergency situations.

Leveraging existing pervasive networks is key to deploying UAV systems. Companies can install telemetry and sensor applications over a Wi-Fi network, thus eliminating the need for designated networks and readers. Assets should maintain visibility throughout the entire enterprise. For example, dual-mode Wi-Fi/UWB tags (Figure 2) enable Wi-Fi throughout an entire facility and UWB only in areas where very high accuracy (sub 1 meter) is required. Additionally, businesses can determine the point where items with passive RFID tags are scanned by locating the mobile reader's Wi-Fi client.

Figure 2

More than just finding assets

In addition to visibility benefits, unifying traditionally disparate data sources can also achieve considerable management and cost advantages. A standards-based UAV system that promotes data consolidation can significantly reduce total cost of ownership and deployment risks. Rather than supporting numerous networks and separately integrating data from each source into each application, UAV ties these sources together in one network and one integration platform for all enterprise applications.

UAV goes beyond RTLS and traditional RFID systems by delivering a full spectrum of visibility capabilities, including real-time information regarding asset location, status, condition, and value. Moreover, it brings together multiple data sources into a single platform that can easily integrate with other critical business applications. Using UAV, enterprises are gaining complete visibility into all of their assets, meeting their business needs and ultimately achieving greater efficiency and productivity.

Gabi Daniely is VP of marketing and product strategy for AeroScout, based in Redwood City, California. Gabi leads the company's strategy in the RFID and UAV markets. Prior to joining AeroScout, he led product management at Emblaze Systems, which supplies multimedia systems to the cellular industry, and worked in IT systems management at Intel. He has a BSc (honors) in Information Systems and Industrial Engineering and an MBA from Ben Gurion University in Israel.

AeroScout, Inc.