Real-time location systems (RTLS) systems are everywhere, and yet most people either don’t know about them or have only heard of RTLS applications in passing.
There’s a lot to learn, but they can be very profitable. The RTLS market is expected to reach $10.3 billion by 2025, which has turned it into a major decision factor for entrepreneurs and business owners this year.
The thing that makes real-time location systems RTLS such a game-changer is that they enable companies to provide location-based services at scale. By fully taking advantage of location technologies, an entrepreneur can save money, time, and resources, while putting an end to the monotony of dealing with purely approximate data—where you know exactly where the asset is but can’t be bothered to determine its exact location.
The goal of the RTLS system is to track people and assets in real time. Applications include supply chain management, healthcare, manufacturing, security, transportation, workplace safety and much more. It’s already being used by forward-thinking enterprises like Walmart and Amazon.
At MOKOSmart, we have extensive experience developing and integrating IoT technology and location capabilities across various industries.
So, if you’re considering getting into RTLS applications, think you might be using RTLS but don’t know the details, or even have no idea what RTLS is, this post is for you.
An introduction to RTLS technologies
What’s important to take into account when considering RTLS is that broadly speaking, the way a system calculates location data and the hardware it uses to do so determine how accurate the system will be.
At the moment, there are several different types of RTLS systems based on the technologies used to build them, and they all have their relative strengths and weaknesses.
When looking for real-time location systems, you’ll realize pretty soon there’s a major type of technology manufacturers choose to build them; one that stands out from the others: radio frequency technology (RF)
Think of Ultra-wideband (UBW) or Wi-Fi. There are systems that place RFID beacons on persons and objects so that each person’s badge communicates with an antennae or antenna network. To calculate location, tags and antennas interact in various ways that can involve triangulation in one system and trilateration in another.
The thing is; even if the work processes that the technology follows in each system are different, radio frequency technology is a safe bet in the use of RTLS technology:
- Bluetooth (BLE);
- Ultra WideBand (UWB);
- NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT);
- UHF RFID or ISM-band;
- Active RFID technology;
- Passive RFID technology (RAIN);
- Radio Beacon, etc.
As real-time location systems solutions have evolved, it has become increasingly common to incorporate complementary location technologies like cellular, ultrasound, laser and infrared with RF-based approaches like magnetometry, ultrasonic ranging, optical locating, inertial measurement, wide over narrow bands and low-frequency signpost identification.
There are many non-RF systems that also incorporate camera location and clustering in noisy ambiance technology, Zigbee protocols, and dead reckoning and pseudolites systems.
Although most people use the terms RTLS and asset tracking interchangeably, their meanings are slightly different. While asset tracking refers to a broad range of technologies, RTLS is specifically concerned with ‘real-time’ (hence the name)
RTLS is a tag-based technology for identifying and tracking assets in real time. In contrast, asset tracking encompasses technologies beyond RTLS that are not tag-based.
If you think about it, barcodes -one clear example of asset tracking- don’t have a particularly specific enough location in time and space to be of use for accuracy and efficiency, right? Barcodes are one of the most well-known ways to track an item, but they don’t provide real-time information.
There are many people in the location technology industry who only offer solutions for asset tracking, but it’s important to know that there are other industries that use RTLS technology outside of the scope of asset tracking. For example, a navigation system designed to aid passengers on an airplane uses RTLS in a way that is closely related to asset tracking.
RFID/RTLS products can be useful in a number of scenarios. In some cases, all that’s needed is basic identification information (e.g., checking out books from the library). In other cases, however, knowing the actual and accurate location of an asset can make a difference.
Think about hospitals. When hospitals are busy, it’s important to keep track of where equipment and transport vehicles are located. RTLS system offers numerous benefits in this case that are better than the ones asset tracking can provide in its place—reducing asset loss, theft, and misplacement; increasing efficiency; and improving patient care.
Actually, understanding RTLS has a lot to do with understanding the overlap between asset tracking and other technologies such as RFID, GPS, and Bluetooth beacons.
In today’s world, asset management practices often lack solid, real-time data, meaning enterprises sometimes lack information when they need it most.
25 RTLS solutions trending worldwide
Effectively managing locations with precise accuracy, reliability, and accessibility is becoming a necessity in virtually every industry. These systems enable businesses to provide more personalized service and expand their geographic footprint significantly while reducing costs and improving operational efficiency. Industries such as real estate, supply chain management, hospitality, transportation, and retail are already seeing the benefits of implementing RTLS applications.
Think about it -What if a piece of software could tell you exactly where a relative or friend was in real-time? Or, if that relative or friend was in a different part of the world, could they get turn-by-turn directions? Such a system would have many practical applications, such as allowing military personnel on a secure network to know precisely where their unit is located while on maneuvers or allowing preschool children to stay in touch with their parents even if they are thousands of miles apart.
Here, we will discuss 25 ways that RTLS applications can be used to address various real-world problems.
Uses in fleet tracking
1. Transport Monitoring
GPS, telematics, or similar RTLS options allow for a level of detail far beyond the capabilities of manual scanning or checkpoints.
2. Land Control
Other than knowing the location of a fleet’s vehicles, there’s also value in knowing the whereabouts of each vehicle at any given time. A fleet management system that uses RTLS can help you do this. It can also help you organize vehicle parking.
The location of a vehicle is valuable data. Knowing exactly where each vehicle is at all times helps with scheduling drivers and dispatching vehicles to nearby locations. The return on investment of RTLS for location-tracking in the distribution, logistics, and fleet management industry is a great way to get a better perspective of how your assets are being used.
3. Forklift Management
If you neglect to track where your forklifts and similar vehicles are, it will be difficult to determine whether more or fewer vehicles are needed. Therefore, it’s important to track the number of kilometers each vehicle travels per shift because this data will show whether using a forklift makes sense.
4. Visibility of physical inventory
Real-time location systems (RTLS) are used to track the movement of goods throughout a supply chain, ensuring that warehouse owners and shipping companies know where their product is at all times. If you’re tracking or timing-stamping the locations of valuable items as they travel between points, this can make for more efficient operations, prevent errors, and provide insight.
Having a good framework for how your business is run will help you get the most out of your business.
5. Logistics at Airports
By knowing the location of service vehicles, including luggage carriers and chassis, inside airports at any given time, a company can improve its operations and increase its profitability.
Uses in asset tracking
6. Materials Tracking
The more efficiently you can track and use your raw materials, the cheaper your finished products will be in the future.
7. WIP Data Tracking
Location data can help ensure that products are manufactured in a timely manner, especially when there are time-sensitive materials involved. This is particularly useful with machines, pharmaceuticals, electrical components, and consumer goods. Companies can use location data to track the movement of key resources, such as materials and machinery, ensuring that needed resources arrive at just the right time.
A tool-tracking solution is a valuable way to keep an inventory of your tools in real time. It also reduces the need to log your tool usage, even when location isn’t always feasible.
The activity reports provided by IDEO Professional are of great help. The reports provide insight into how frequently and on what platform your favorite tools are used. They enable you to make use of new features more effectively and save valuable time in working on your code.
9. Locating Work Orders
To track the progress of your work orders, you need to have a way to measure how far along they are. Consider using barcodes, boxes, or some other way to mark the progress of each job.
RTLS is a technology that uses sensors to track objects automatically and relay a live update. These updates allow for the container of work orders to be tracked, making it easy for an employee to see where the papers are currently.
10. Staff Safety
If you keep track of the location of your workers, it will let you know who is in danger in a hazardous area and who is isolated or hurt. The geolocation system that is installed in your company can show the accurate location of your employees and detect dangerous areas during work.
11. Tagged Asset Tracking
When IT teams are using location tracking, they can identify when assets have moved outside of approved zones. It also reduces the exposure of these devices to harmful environments.
Uses in hospitals
12. Wheelchair Monitoring
When you lose track of inventory, it’s easier to make mistakes that compound over time. Tracking wheelchairs allows every user or hospital administrator to know exactly how much inventory they have available at any given time, which helps keep systems organized and efficient. And it helps administrators allocate inventory efficiently while knowing exactly which equipment is needed at any given time.
13. IV Pumps Tracking
Another way RTLS benefits hospitals, beyond helping track wheelchairs, is by measuring the location of expensive medical equipment.
While the distribution channels for perishable medical assets like vaccines or other controlled pharmaceuticals are designed to help maintain their freshness, they’re still difficult to keep track of. The RTLS quality has increased and it is our firm belief that this tracking system will help drive the world into an era of better healthcare, quality measurement and responsible use of public resources.
15. Organ Transplants
Vaccines and organs are both perishable, as well as priceless. Thus, a careful record of how long an organ was outside of a donor’s body can be extremely important for recovering the maximum value from that organ in the transplants.
16. Experts’ Location
Employees with greater skills tend to be more productive and can work faster. Hospitals that monitor their employees’ location can reduce the time it takes for administrative tasks and decrease the number of people required for a specific task.
17. Improving Healthcare Facilities
There are many effective ways to track the location of a professional. For one hospital, tracking their surgeons was responsible for close to $2 million in savings in a year. This hospital used RTLS applications to track surgeons while improving administrative processes and reducing the number of unsatisfied patients.
18. Contact Tracking
While this technique might be a common concept now thanks to COVID-19, hospitals had explored the idea for years before the technology existed as early as 2020. The spread of Clostridium difficile bacteria, a common but potentially life-threatening hospital-acquired infection, made hospitals explore the contact tracing idea.
This one also has another application, more focused on the business area. Picking the right contact tracking software for your business has many benefits. You can trace every contact your company has with every customer. You can even trace every customer online, to see who they call most often and whether they have a problem with their account. Contact tracking contributes greatly to overall customer satisfaction and helps you improve growth by giving you more information about how and when your customers interact with your business. Its importance goes beyond just helping you improve your productivity: it’s an important part of business data analytics and a powerful tool for marketing and customer retention.
Used in navigation
19. Indoor Navigation
While GPS is great for outdoor navigation, it does not work indoors or in dense cities. The popularity of RTLS systems has significantly increased globally, especially in the markets of Asia and Europe. RTLS applications has proved to be an effective way to help people navigate buildings, and it protects people’s privacy.
20. Tracking at Public Places & Events
RTLS system can make it easier for parents to find missing children, or to be alerted when their child hasn’t moved a certain distance away from them. RTLS can also eliminate lines and keep count of the number of people who enter and exit an event
21. Enhance the Visitor Interactive Experience
A visitor is more likely to investigate a piece of information embedded in RTLS equipment with AR and VR technology than a piece of information embedded in informational audio. One of the most popular ways to improve the visitor interactive experience is to use Radio-frequency identification location or RTLS. RTLS is a way to offer multimedia experiences in addition to your physical exhibit.
22. Luggage Location
To better track the location of luggage, an airport or transit station can use RFID stickers. This allows both the traveler and employees to know the location of luggage at all times.
There are also some RLTS-based apps that help you with this. Picking the best luggage tracking app is a great way to protect your belongings from getting lost while you are traveling, or to find out the latest location of your luggage before you leave for the airport. A good app will also let you know if your bag has been lost or stolen and allow you to quickly report the incident to the police.
23. Pet Tracking
Collar-based RTLS system has been used for some time, but recently it has become cheaper and more precise than ever. Using RTLS, pet owners can now find their pets much more quickly by knowing their exact location within inches.
Used in analysis
24. Wildlife and Flora Protection
As well as indoor and outdoor use, RTLS systems are used to monitor the health and safety of animals in farming, research and zoos.
25. Sports Analytics
RTLS has already been embraced by the sports industry for analytics and in-game study. Collecting detailed player statistics and tracking people as they move around are just a few of the ways RTLS systems are already being used to help teams.
Top 4 RTLS applications predictions in 2021
1. RTLS devices have come to stay
It is no surprise that people are turning to RTLS devices for security and connectivity. The devices have proved themselves in the most challenging telecommunications environments, and their performance and reliability have been validated by extensive field use, real-world deployments, and consumer reports.
Real-time location systems have proved to be a huge help across various industries this 2021. These systems record the time, date and location of every person who comes in and out of a building, for example. The technology behind these devices is old but it has proved successful in helping law enforcement and public safety agencies achieve several goals, including keeping track of criminals and victims.
The technology that underpins many safety features is actually quite simple. A radio-frequency identification tag (RFID) can be strapped to a person, luggage, or even equipment to let authorities know when that person or thing is in a certain place. This helps authorities keep an eye on both stolen and abandoned goods, and can even let them know if there’s a remotely triggered explosion in the immediate area. In areas without robust public transport systems, having an at-risk population covered by an easily deployed sensor network could be a game-changer.
Whether it’s for the military or businesses, the ability to sync up with devices and locate an asset from anywhere in the world in real time is a game-changer. This kind of connectivity will open up new markets for both small businesses and large ones. Location and motion tracking will allow businesses to better manage their inventory, yes, but it will also unlock new applications for people who work from home or live in areas with poor or no public transportation.
2. Location Systems will boost with the help of 5G
Real-time location tracking will be especially important for initially deploying 5G networks across wide areas without the need for precise accuracy, but this will then require RTLS to provide more fine-grained tracking with higher accuracy in smaller and more exacting spaces
The arrival of WiFi and smartphone technologies has spurred the demand for location-based technology. 5G provides text messaging services along with high-speed data transmission, thereby dramatically increasing the speed at which location-based services can be offered by any entity. The use of technology in daily life is inadvertently stimulating the creation of new industries, as well as stimulating economic growth.
Current wireless technology is not sufficient to support standard location-based services, such as location-based apps for navigation and location-based services for entertainment and personal interests. The advent of 5G wireless technology will bring significant benefits to location-based businesses, making it possible to locate clients in more places with less bandwidth demand on both ends.
3. Prices for RTLS system will get even lower with time
According to McKinsey Global Institute, IoT technology will add $3 trillion to the global economy by 2026. And while it’s already affecting consumer behavior in a variety of ways, IoT technology will only continue to grow. As the technology embedded in our everyday devices becomes commonplace, benefits will only continue to grow — from security and efficiency to help with jobs and commerce, aid in climate change efforts and much more, and cost reduction will be significant.
Prices for RTLS will get even lower with time, as production volumes grow and as the demand for these location-based products grows. We are confident that the market will find an equilibrium with lower prices as we enter into a phase where demand for real-time location systems will exceed supply. As technology drives prices down for others, it will continue to drive prices down for RTLS.
4. Reliability Over Accuracy
In today’s world, reliability is crucial. So while millimeter precision may be ideal for some applications, it is unlikely to be needed in most.
The classic experiment to measure the reliability of a system is the heuristic: take the average of successes and failures. A reliable system should have an average success rate; a less reliable system should have a higher failure rate.
Any location that requires a repeatable result, such as a heat exchanger or a pressure plate will benefit from upstream error correction using reliable sensors. This is actually something that automotive manufacturers have started doing a lot with their vehicle location systems.
The RTLS applications market will continue to grow as users demand greater reliability over accuracy, particularly in locations where there is uncertainty about infrastructure (e.g., rough terrain).