Many businesses are missing out on significant improvements to asset management because management does not understand how IoT can be used to complement traditional systems, although there are some instances where it has been implemented to manage critical infrastructure such as water and wastewater systems.
In one particular area, asset tracking is enjoying a resurgence as a complement to the asset management suite of tools due to the dramatically falling costs facilitated by the IoT. It is now possible to economically track tens of thousands of devices and deliver data analytics that support applications around compliance, productivity and security.
Asset tracking systems link into asset management systems by exporting asset lists and unique IDs, which can then be tracked dynamically via IoT without the need to physically scan barcodes or RFID tags.
Technologies that have the potential to be applied in visualisations for asset management and tracking including augmented reality and machine learning.
Real Time Location Services for Asset Tracking with IoT
Being able to quickly and efficiently track mobile assets via IoT has many advantages for businesses and corporations with a high demand for transparency in asset management.
It also provides benefits in complying with servicing requirements and planning for future asset purchases based on accurate and complete usage data. Another possibility is tracking the movement of staff, setting notifications for security or OH&S breaches.
Real Time Location Services (RTLS) combines smart asset tags and stationary gateways or tag readers with various communication protocols and uses either GPS or uploaded floor plans to monitor the location of assets.
Potential applications for IoT asset tracking include the corporate sector where multi-storey buildings or large outdoor sites (such as mines) can make equipment location hard to track. Public sector applications such as hospitals it can also deliver significant productivity gains by allowing time-poor staff to find equipment efficiently and reduce the cost of under-utilised equipment (which can be considerable).
Keeping down the cost of asset tags, gateways, routers and tag readers is a major challenge when choosing a RTLS solution, especially when tracking a large number of devices over a wide area.
To ensure that reliable asset tracking is maintained, communications need to be stable and allow uninterrupted connectivity. If there are outages, contingency plans are required.
For example, if the primary communications are via Bluetooth, local wi-fi and a 3G router might be provided as backup.
Increasing competition, particularly for low band frequency (LF) RTLS is bringing down costs and providing developers with multiple options to maintain connectivity.
Tracking assets within multi-storey buildings can also present a challenge, as some technologies, such as GPS and LF solutions, will only show the geographical location and may not specify which floor the asset is on, or relate it to the building’s floor plan. Ideally, you want to know which room it is in, at the very least.
Another consideration is how to integrate or retrofit legacy asset tracking systems.
For application to assets that require sterilisation at high temperatures or are subject to vibrations (such as mining vehicles) different casings can be designed to protect the tags from temperature, vibration and other environmental factors , although this comes at a cost.
When choosing an RTLS solution, considerations should include:
- Do you want to install multiple access points or use existing electronic device’s capabilities
- What kind of coverage is required?
- What accuracy is required?
- How many assets do you want to track?
- Do you need local or global tracking?
RTLS technology options
The table below summarises the strengths, considertions and relative cost of some RTLS technology options.
Diagrams courtesy of Tony Lotzof, Leash It
Triangulation and reference point architectures
Two architectures can be used to track tagged assets within buildings or sites.
The first is reference point architecture, which uses multiple routers located around the building or site. The gateways detect signals ransmitted by asset tags and posts the location of the asset relative to the closest gateway to a server, which lays out asset location on a floor plan. This architecture is shown in the diagram below.
Diagram courtesy of Tony Lotzof, Leash It
The second architecture is triangulation, uses three routers to triangulate the position of the asset tag according to the relative signal strength received by each of the routers. This architecture is shown in the following diagram. In some wi-fi solutions, triangulation architectures can have trouble distinguishing between floor locations in multi-storey buildings.
Diagram courtesy of Tony Lotzof, Leash It
The building floor plan or site plan is uploaded to the RTLS solution, and asset location is plotted according to horizontal (x) and vertical (y) co-ordinates, and updated when a new position is detected.
Security of RTLS can be increased by implementing data encryption, and multiple entry points to counter denial of service attacks.
For BLE solutions, only Bluetooth IDs are transmitted, not sensitive information. However, open wi-fi end nodes can lead to vulnerabilities.
See the case study of a tracking solution by Blue IoT.
The content of this page was primarily sourced from:
- Webinar titled “Asset Tracking with the IoT” by Tony Lotzof, Leash It
Edited by Tim Kannegieter