UWB Puts Precision on the Map So Innovation Can Find Its Place There, Too



Two separate location technology trends are dovetailing. What are the implications for innovation and growth in the consumer and industrial markets?When most people think about location technologies, they think of services (now starting to work not only outdoors but indoors as well) offered to mobile users based on the users’ locations. Indoor location systems of this sort have been taking off recently. Those relying on Google Maps or Waze to find their way to a shopping location are increasingly able, once there, to find stores in a mall or products in a store using their smartphones.

Two trends in the location technology area are now coming together to enable much more innovative market-making applications. The first trend is that indoor location positioning technology is being implemented in chips, rather than in smartphone applications. The second trend is that indoor location positioning is becoming much more accurate and responsive.

Software-Based or Hardware-Based?

An innovative product that requires location-positioning capability, including new appliances or other hardware products, will very often require such capability be implemented in hardware, for direct integration into the new product. Software-based location technologies are perfect for smartphones and other general-purpose computing devices, but not for new products with minimalistic and special-purpose hardware. Makers of new products, including electronic devices and appliances, robots, drones, toys and more, can integrate location much more effectively in hardware form.

In response to this need, location-tracking technologies are coming to market in chips and PCB components. This first trend enables innovative consumer or industrial products to take advantage of location tracking as effectively as smartphone and tablet applications can.

Figure1

Figures 1 and 2: The transmission bursts used in Narrowband radio are longer than those used by Ultra Wideband  (UWB) technology. UWB’s shorter bursts enable more precise distance and location measurements than are possible using WiFi, Bluetooth or other narrowband radio based systems.

Figures 1 and 2: The transmission bursts used in Narrowband radio are longer than those used by Ultra Wideband (UWB) technology. UWB’s shorter bursts enable more precise distance and location measurements than are possible using WiFi, Bluetooth or other narrowband radio based systems.

At the same time, new products that use location often require that location positioning be more accurate than that of today’s smartphone solutions. Most smartphone-based indoor location systems are only accurate to within three-to-five meters, which is accurate enough to determine which store in the mall a shopper is in. Innovative products often require more accuracy. For example, accuracy to the degree that we know whether that shopper is about to go through a door or bump into a wall could be needed. The second trend is the realization of much higher accuracy in location positioning than was previously available.

A Robot Shutterbug

Newer technology called Ultra Wideband (UWB) can determine location to within 10cm. Using UWB chips, appliances can not only incorporate location positioning into their appliance functions, but also achieve much more accuracy in the process.

The reason for this increased accuracy is that UWB radio waves are inherently more accurate for measuring distance and location than any narrowband radio system such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Narrowband radio uses much longer transmission bursts, with much more gradual rise and fall. This limits the accuracy of distance measurement. UWB radio, however, uses much shorter transmission bursts with much sharper rise and fall, enabling distance and location to be measured much more precisely (Figures 1 and 2).

This combination of chip implementation and increased accuracy is answering the market needs for location technologies in innovative products. This new technology is enabling innovative appliances that use location technology to deliver better experiences to their customers.

Consider, for example, the new Move N’ See robotic camera from Pixio. Move N’ See incorporates a UWB chip that tracks the location of a person in action, who is wearing a watch-like device that also contains a UWB chip. Pixio uses the location chips to automatically track along, and zoom in and out, as the person moves around. The Pixio device is essentially a robot photographer for action video and photography, indoor or outdoor. Pixio’s robot can work with many standard cameras.

Pixio is able to track the camera as the person moves by integrating UWB chips from DecaWave. These chips deliver fast and highly accurate location positioning, enabling the Move N’ See to constantly know the person’s location and adjust the camera accordingly.

Tracking in an Industrial Setting

Another highly innovative example is in a more industrial market. Agilion, manufacturer of components for industrial equipment, has used the DecaWave UWB chip to make location-tracking components for industrial uses. Unlike existing solutions, which are accurate only to within a few meters and often require extensive infrastructure in the site, Agilion’s component can track location within 10cm, and can do so with low-priced and easy-to-install infrastructure. In industrial applications, the low cost of infrastructure can make or break an entire project.

One application of Agilion’s component is a factory floor solution for tracking cordless screwdrivers and other easy-to-misplace items. Many technologies have been used for solutions in this area, but none of them has delivered the accuracy needed. More important, other technologies require Ethernet-connected locator units to be installed around the site. In contrast, an approach based on Agilion’s component uses locator units that connect wirelessly, requiring much less infrastructure investment along with higher accuracy.

Figure 3: Mobile development firm Pixio has integrated a UWB chip into a robotic camera.

Figure 3: Mobile development firm Pixio has integrated a UWB chip into a robotic camera.

The same component from Agilion tracks vehicles around an industrial lot, keeping tabs on where each vehicle is and where it has been around the lot. This solution can be used indoors or out, under roofs or in basements.

The Move N’ See camera and the industrial systems from Agilion are but two examples of innovative market-making products that incorporate precise location chips. DecaWave’s single-chip CMOS implementation of location positioning based on UWB is on the market and being evaluated by numerous companies in a wide variety of markets.

With UWB’s accuracy and chip implementation, location technology is finally meeting the needs of innovative product makers. Stay tuned to see what will be the next appliance or electronic product to incorporate highly accurate location positioning.

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Ciaran Connell, CEO of DecaWave, has over 20 years of experience in the communications and semiconductor industry, and has gained Fortune 500 experience in Strategy, Operations, Business Development and Corporate Investments & Acquisitions. Prior to DecaWave, he headed Strategy and Business Development (EMEA) at Freescale France, and before that worked at Motorola in France, the U.S. and Cornel.

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