September 29, 2020

All you need to know about Asset Tracking

Business activities are closely linked to an organization’s revenue stream. However, during this pandemic, these activities are paused, and with minimal contact being permissible across the world. It is quite a task for industries such as Logistics, Manufacturing and even Healthcare, where inspection and monitoring of beneficiary, product or equipment is absolutely essential, without having a closer look at the inventory.

 

From locating a file to tracking an individual or an asset, there is a need for a robust solution that enables tracking of assets and personnel, and that too with minimal contact and maximal supervision.

 

This is where Asset Tracking becomes critical.

Asset tracking is the process of keeping track of your company’s physical assets and their location, so you always know their whereabouts. Your assets can be IT devices, tools or even a person.

 

Find technology that fits your business needs

 

There are various technologies available to cater to the need for asset tracking solutions, namely, RFID, BLE, Wi-Fi, Ultra-Wide Band, 2G, LPWA, 5G, NB-IoT, ultrasound, infrared. You can determine the right technology for your use case based on the following considerations:

 

  • Location Accuracy: It determines the precision needed for determining the location, it can be a few centimeters or a few meters.
  • Tracking Frequency: It denotes the frequency at which your assets should be tracked. Certain solutions like Passive RFID tags are available for short range and respond when triggered. While on the other hand, for real time tracking of assets for every second, minute or hour, technologies like BLE, Wi-Fi and GPS are available.
  • Mobility: Mobility refers to the movement of your assets that need to be tracked. For a long range, in outdoors, GPS serves the purpose, whereas, indoors, for a short range BLE, RFID, UWB are the right fit.

 

Apart from this, you might need to consider the cost, infrastructure, inoperability, location and deployment constraints as well.

 

Components Required for IoT-based Asset Tracking

 

  • Beacons: A beacon is a small Bluetooth radio transmitter that connects the power of the Internet to our everyday life, powered by batteries. They are very small and simple devices which house a CPU, radio, and a few small, lithium chip batteries. They come in various shapes and colors and might include temperature sensors, accelerometers, or other add-ons.
  • IOT Gateway: The primary function of IOT gateway is the communication between beacons and existing LAN & WAN. They also perform several critical functions such as protocol translation, data filtering and processing, security, updating and management.
  • Connectivity: A network access for your assets to communicate.
  • Management Platform: A way to remotely manage connectivity, monitor device locations, and access device analytics.

 

We all know that AI can leverage our data and can recall everything which we might find difficult. However, AI and bots might not be able to perceive or understand human psychology without a context in place and won’t have an option to delineate human across multiple contexts.

 

Factors to consider while installation

 

There are many factors which lead to false signal strength leading to poor accuracy of the system like fluctuations, biases, metal, water bodies. These are the attenuations in the signal dispersion within buildings for BLE beacons. Corresponding characteristics are considered when installing and during parameterization.

 

  • Low attenuation properties:  Wood, synthetic materials, glass
  • Medium attenuation properties:  Brick, marble
  • High attenuation properties:  Plaster, concrete, coated glass surfaces (bulletproof versions, etc.)
  • Extremely high attenuation properties:  Metal, water (this includes people and groups of people)

 

Additional Considerations

 

  • RSSI:  It is a representation of the power of the signal from the beacon. The value is low when the distance is long and higher if nearer. Some systems use the trilateration to improve accuracy.
  • Frequency Hopping:  If you install beacons in a space with lots of Wi-Fi signals (for example, at a trade show), then interference can occur because BLE and Wi-Fi share the same frequency range (2.4 GHz). The problem can be easily avoided here by not using channels 2, 3, 4, 13 and 14 when configuring the Wi-Fi and using 1, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 instead. Bluetooth uses the remaining available channels to capacity in a uniform manner (frequency hopping). 
  • Trilateration:  BLE relies on a property known as received signal strength indicator (RSSI) to calculate how close a beacon is to a hub using a fairly complex formula called trilateration.
  • MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport):  A lightweight messaging protocol. It uses the pub/sub pattern and translates messages between devices, servers, and applications.
  • Telemetry:  Collection of measurements or other data at remote points and their automatic transmission to receiving equipment for monitoring.

 

Use of BLE technology can be used to track the assets

 

Bluetooth Low Energy is a power-conserving variant of Bluetooth personal area network (PAN) technology, designed for use by Internet-connected machines and appliances. The indoor positioning relies on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons mounted on objects, walls, ceilings, and other places from where they emit radio signals at predetermined intervals. Devices within the emission area can then detect the signals and this helps to establish if the two (emitter and receiver) are within the range of each other.

Beacons are attached to the object that needs to be tracked. Positioning takes place via the network of Gateways. The Gateway then receives the Bluetooth Signal and transmit data to the IOT Platform, where the position is calculated and provided via web services. The received RSSI or this signal value is measured in decibels from 0 (zero) to -120 (minus 120). The closer the value to 0 (zero), the stronger the signal will be.

 

We use RSSI to calculate distance using the formula mentioned below:

 

Distance = 10 ^ ((Measured Power * RSSI) / (10 * N))

 

where n is the Environmental Factor and Measured Power is a factory-calibrated, read-only constant which indicates what’s the expected RSSI at a distance of 1 meter to the beacon.

As mentioned above there are certain factors that can lead to poor signal strength, leading to wrong distance calculation. We have listed down certain methods that can help you overcome the challenge, namely:

 

  • Proximity Analysis
  • Statistical Modelling
  • Gaussian Filter
  • Kalman Filter
  • Triangulation Filter

 

Advantages

 

Asset tracking enables the real-time identification of equipment and devices, making it easier to locate the devices. By implementing an asset tracking system with beacons, you would always know where your equipment is. This ensures that there are fewer misplaced assets, reduced purchase of repeat equipment and shorter wait time for patients.

 

  • Improves staff efficiency
  • Reduces time to track all assets, especially in a large area
  • Ensures that required equipment is in the intended place
  • Gives data for analysis and optimization
  • Gives real-time access to properties of owned assets

 

Although the need for Asset Tracking has grown during the period of Covid-19, the need will remain the same even after the pandemic ends. With the tremendous advantages of Asset Tracking, Manufacturing and Logistics organizations can reap huge benefits with investment in the right technology.

 

 

Written by Arkita Toshniwal, Senior System Executive at Eternus Solutions

3 Comments

  • Rakesh Shinde says:

    Very well explained. Nice article.

  • Koryn says:

    I have a question about Asset Tracking using BLE. If I have an asset that a phone’s BLE detects in Location A, that phone loses its signal, moves locations, regains signal at Location B, is it possible that the asset would appear like it is at Location B but still be at Location A if no other phones BLE pick it up?

  • Koryn says:

    If I have an asset that a phone’s BLE detects in Location A, that phone loses its signal, moves locations, regains signal at Location B, is it possible that the asset would appear like it is at Location B but still be at Location A if no other phones BLE pick it up?

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