Where Am I? (RTLS and MicroZoning)

We get a lot of inquiries from people asking if we can do real-time location systems (RTLS).  According to our pals at Wikipedia:

Real-time locating systems (RTLS) are used to automatically identify and track the location of objects or people in real time, usually within a building or other contained area. Wireless RTLS tags are attached to objects or worn by people, and in most RTLS, fixed reference points receive wireless signals from tags to determine their location.[1] Examples of real-time locating systems include tracking automobiles through an assembly line, locating pallets of merchandise in a warehouse, or finding medical equipment in a hospital.

The physical layer of RTLS technology is usually some form of radio frequency (RF) communication, but some systems use optical (usually infrared) or acoustic (usually ultrasound) technology instead of or in addition to RF. Tags and fixed reference points can be transmitters, receivers, or both, resulting in numerous possible technology combinations.

RTLS are a form of local positioning system, and do not usually refer to GPS, mobile phone tracking, or systems that use only passive RFID tracking. Location information usually does not include speed, direction, or spatial orientation.

Do you know where I am?

Why are they calling?

Generally, the people asking about this are trying to develop some sort of a personnel security application, often related to mustering in the event of a disaster or evacuation.  They’re looking for a system that tells them exactly where people are located in a building and/or if they’ve left. Some also want to track valuable assets.

We tell them that Intelleflex doesn’t provide RTLS systems but we do provide something we call “MicroZoning” and explain that, by using the range and performance capabilities of our battery assisted passive RFID, we can tell you that people are in a particular zone or area, though not precisely where they are.  They say they wanted RTLS and  thank us for our candidness and we end the conversation.

Often, sometimes within an hour or sometimes within a few days, they call us back and say something like “Wow, I had no idea RTLS systems were so EXPENSIVE.  Can you tell me about MicroZoning again?”

Simply put, by using RFID to triangulate where badges are located, we can determine where a person or object is located within a few feet.  (The size of the area is determined by the number of antennas used…the more antennas used, the smaller the zone.)  So, for example, you could determine that I’m in my office but you couldn’t tell if I was sitting at my desk or if I was standing near the door (or hiding under my desk!).  But, for many applications, that’s more than adequate.  If you’re evacuating a building, you may just want to know that all of the rooms are vacant.  With MicroZoning, you may be able to determine that far more cost-effectively than by using an RTLS system.

There’s another couple of benefits.  With RFID, you can set up entry/exit monitors to track people as they come and go out of the building.  For evacuations, you can note that 50 people may have entered the building but only 48 have left.  You can also set up RFID readers at mustering points to easily identify who’s in the assembly area.

So, if you’re in the market for security or mustering applications and find RTLS just too costly, you may want to consider MicroZoning as a more cost-effective alternative.  You can learn more about our solutions here.

Kevin Payne

Senior Director of Marketing