Beacons for positioning? You bet!

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If it’s not technologically challenging, it’s impossible to get our technical team enthusiastic to develop the best solution possible. This is one of the reasons why Sensolus started with the development of a low-power GNSS tracker (GPS) that communicates over the LPWAN network of Sigfox.

Within Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), accurate positioning has a high added value, starting from saving time to find back assets, to verifying discrete steps in the supply chain or processes, and even identifying potential security risks related to the location of assets.

We all know the use of GPS in our daily lives through our smartphone, so we all know how energy-demanding GPS is as it drains our phone’s battery in less than 2 hours. As you may know, to compute a GPS position, you need to acquire GPS signals from at least 3, but optimally more than 4 out of 30 GPS satellites orbiting the earth. The acquisition of all these GPS signals and processing them into an accurate position, just takes time and thus processing power, which thus requires energy. In addition, different factors can impact this acquisition and processing time, such as weather conditions, visibility of the device to the sky and even location on the earth. In the end, GPS can be very energy demanding, especially if it is not well managed.

One of the major technical challenges for the Sensolus team was in providing highly accurate (15m) GPS positioning in a compact tracking device, which works on only 3 AA batteries for more than 5 years. This required the team to push the GPS technology to its boundaries by applying smart algorithms such as predicting the satellite positions in advance to ensure faster acquisition times, or early detection of energy-intensive GPS situations to limit energy burn. Many other specific algorithms have been applied in Sensolus, just to ensure that the long battery life is guaranteed, even with a GPS positioning on-board.

The challenge was set and we’ve been able to optimize this process in different ways for our Sensolus solution, but in this blog post we highlight our solution for another challenge of GPS: it is not possible to get a GPS location inside buildings.

In comes the geo beacon

With the introduction of the Sensolus geo beacon solution we have enabled a combined indoor and outdoor positioning, which not only solves the indoor positioning challenge, but also has proven to be cost-effective, easy to install, accurate and highly energy efficient.

When we hear about beacons, we often think about indoor tracking in shopping malls and retail to personalize advertisement. Although other technologies like NFC and QR codes can be used for this, the beacons are very popular as they seamlessly integrate with most of the smartphones. Sensolus has adopted the beacon technology as it comes with some important advantages for industrial environments. First of all, it is used for indoor positioning with a good accuracy (similar to GPS). Secondly, it is a low-power technology, which thus provides an accurate position at only a fraction of the energy needs of GPS. Thirdly, as it is low-power, the beacons themselves are compact, battery powered devices with a long battery autonomy, which do not require a network connection (no WiFi or Ethernet) and which can be installed very easily in existing buildings and sites (as easy as a sticker!). So you do not need to install wires, there is no need for an external power supply, and it is not even required to drill holes in the wall. Just stick them and it works.

“In summary: very simple & cheap solution that works perfectly” – Pascal Corbillon, IoT Technical Specialist at Airbus

And how does it actually work? The Sensolus geobeacons are installed at different specific zones inside the industrial buildings, and can even be installed outside at industrial sites. Different geo beacons can be configured in such a way that they can be detected by Sensolus trackers within certain ranges (e.g. within 5 or 15 meters). Once installed in the building, the location of each geo beacon is configured in the Sensolus platform by attributing specific map locations and geozones to them. Like this, any outdoor positioning can be captured through GPS, while the positioning in known indoor zones or specific outdoor zones can be determined through the geo beacons.

Sensolus Geobeacon

When assets equipped with a Sensolus tracker are nearby geo beacons they will use the beacon signal. If alternatively, the asset is residing somewhere outside, the location is captured via the GPS satellites if no geo beacons are detected. Sensolus is optimized to use the best available positioning technologies, and more importantly to select at the right moment, the required technology that serves the business value.

During the last few years, the Sensolus team has gathered important experience in the use of geo beacons. This includes how to setup and manage geo beacons in dense metallic areas or specific site locations where higher accuracy is required. In addition, the combined use of GPS and geo beacons has led us to become masters in virtual zoning both indoor and outdoor for supply chain and manufacturing processes.

In the end, Sensolus is transforming asset positioning data to valuable process data, which helps the industry to early detect anomalies, potential manufacturing delays or even potential security issues. The non-powered assets, connected by Sensolus, have become digital assets in the industrial processes. In the vision of industry 4.0, the non-powered assets have become data carriers in industrial processes, which unlocks and enables all advantages of digital assets such as instant search, real-time capacity management, pattern and anomaly detection, blockchain-based process verifications, pay-per-use, and so much more.

Discover more about our Sensolus GPS/Beacon solution here.