Getting back on track post-pandemic

Dr Tony Kington, CEO of Omni-ID, explains why the RFID tag pioneer added Quuppa technology to its new range of IoT devices and shares why Quuppa’s location accuracy is opening up some exciting applications in a diverse range of industries

In February, Omni-ID, launched three new IoT devices incorporating Quuppa’s location technology. The new devices were the latest additions to Omni-ID’s Sense range of IoT devices which were introduced to the market in 2020.

  • The Sense Bluetooth low energy (BLE) asset-tracking device now has a Quuppa-enabled version. Like the other BLE products in the range this offers a communication distance of up to 200m and can link to WiFi, LAN, or cellular networks and to a locally-hosted client application server or cloud via suitable gateway or router.
  • The Sense Shield device can be configured to sound an alarm whenever a wearer is located 2m or less from another device. Quuppa compatibility makes Sense Shield one of the most accurate devices on the market.
  • A simpler version of the Sense Shield provides the same Quuppa-enabled location accuracy for tracking assets, without the audible alarm.

Omni-ID is known as the pioneer of passive industrial RFID tags, which are trusted by major global organisations for monitoring the location and identity of their assets. The introduction of our BLE and LoRaWAN IoT devices last year generated huge interest with our customers and partners who could see immediate applications within cold chain condition monitoring, logistics, distribution and asset management.

We decided to develop Quuppa-enabled devices because we see there’s a real opportunity and demand in the market for high precision, relatively low-cost asset identification devices. We like Quuppa as a technology, because it has been demonstrated to achieve high levels of location accuracy. The economics work for us too because, while the infrastructure cost is high on an asset level basis, one of the major attractions of Quuppa’s technology is the relatively low cost of the tags compared with other technologies such as ultra-wide band (UWB). This helps enable a host of use cases that otherwise may struggle to achieve a suitable ROI.

Quuppa is ideal for use in a defined, controlled environment, such as a warehouse, workshop, or a production work cell, where infrastructure cost can be spread over a large number of tracking devices. However, the economics of it become much more difficult when the ratio of target devices to the infrastructure cost changes. If you only want to track 500 objects in a warehouse, UWB may be a better answer. However, if you want to be able to precisely track 2,000 or more assets to within a 30 centimetre distance in a warehouse, Quuppa is the most cost-effective option without, because the UWB tag cost is significantly higher than BLE tags. When developing asset location devices and selecting the right technology there is a spectrum of precision to be considered and weighed against relative operational costs. Based on our testing, both technologies provide a fairly similar level of precision. While the two technologies offer similar benefits, Quuppa offers a more cost-effective option for tracking high volumes of assets.

Accuracy at the Oval

Quuppa is one of the suite of location service technologies that we want to offer to our customers and partners. There is significant market interest in Quuppa-enabled devices, it is still at quite an early stage of adoption and there are wide ranging and interesting applications of the technology in industries as diverse as food processing, oil and gas, retail and sports venues. As an example, our Sense Shield device was used within Restrata’s solution for the government COVID-safe technology trial at the Oval cricket ground to enable cricket fans to safely return to the ground to watch the Surrey v. Hampshire match last September.

We developed the Quuppa-enabled devices because the technology is complementary to our existing range of devices and customers’ existing personnel and asset-tracking applications, be it in a commercial, leisure or industrial environment.

Post-pandemic

One application being tested is measuring how well supermarket display systems work by tracking whether shopping trolleys slow down near the displays, indicating that they’re attracting customers’ attention. Another application is being tested by a nationwide automotive repair network that wants to track the movement of key items of plant and other equipment to measure throughput and cycle time of vehicles that they are maintaining. Another application is within automated machine shops, where there is a variety of work in progress and the organisation wants to tightly control the flow of materials through the manufacturing line.

Examples of other types of applications where Quuppa could be used to provide the required level of location precision include chilled warehouses in the food industry, where the operator wants to run a first in, first out system. In the same industry, Quuppa-enabled tracking is being used to assist a large dairy company to enable full tracking of thousands of containers to ensure that each of the containers is properly identified, tracked, maintained and sanitised and that the right product goes into the right container. Another example might be baskets of goods in a warehouse, where the operator needs to locate goods with precision down to 30cm – 50cm.

Best of both worlds

During our development process, we have found that Quuppa, allied with GPS location technology provides a versatile solution that allows for assets to use GPS when outdoors and switch to Quuppa location tracking when inside, where the GPS connection will be lost.

Any application use case where you have a combination of difficult to control outdoor storage of a variety of relatively high value assets which require indoor processing would benefit from this solution.

The Quuppa-enabled devices are the latest additions to the Sense LoRa product range, which can transmit signals up to 15km in flat, open space, or 3-4km in an urban setting. All Sense devices have a compact battery that lasts up to five years in harsh and remote operating environments: reducing the cost and time required to replace devices in the field. When using the GPS and accelerometer features, Sense LoRa devices will give positional accuracy of 3-5m upon movement.

PoCs

To enable our customers and partners to rapidly gain data from trial implementations, in February we also launched our ‘OmniSphere’ middleware IoT platform, which simplifies collection, storage, visualization and interpretation of asset data by delivering Sense device data seamlessly to existing corporate systems, or customer applications. A range of dashboards display sensor data including motion alarms, range measurement, push button alerts, temperature, GNSS coordinates and devices’ current and previous positions, which can be viewed on a configurable map. Alerts can be generated, such as sending an email when a device enters or leaves a geofence or notifying when a device’s temperature goes above or below a pre-configured threshold. The new middleware platform also enables rapid technology evaluation and proof-of-concept applications involving Omni-ID Sense devices.

The addition of three new Quuppa-compatible devices, supported by the OmniSphere middleware, provides our customers with the ability to rapidly review data from proof-of-concept applications, so that they can swiftly test and implement devices wherever precise location tracking is required.

Choosing the right technology

While the new devices are a great addition to the Sense IoT device range, we appreciate that Quuppa won’t be the right choice for all of our customers’ or partners’ applications. As I mentioned, Quuppa operates at the higher end of the location precision spectrum. Some applications don’t require this level of accuracy, a fleet operator might only want to know that a tanker is in the yard, it doesn’t need to know its location to within 30 cm.

In the logistics sector, where tracking of assets such as small containers doesn’t need to be any more accurate than within 10m or 20m, we’d be more likely to provide a BLE tag. The truck already has a GPS device as part of another asset tracking service that is being provided. By putting a cellular BLE gateway on the truck, it reads the tags. The cellular BLE gateway is paired with the GPS device on the truck, hence the GPS location is known. For a lot of logistics applications, where the customers is just looking at the flow of materials through their wider network, that level of asset tracking accuracy is perfectly adequate to let the warehouse or manufacturing site know that the truck is two hours away so that they are geared up to receive the assets that the truck is carrying.

In conclusion, Quuppa brings a highly complementary technology to our expanding range of IoT devices. We foresee the greatest uptake being in the combination of outdoor/indoor asset tracking applications, where multiple assets are stored outdoors and tracked over GPS and then have some level of indoor processing which also needs to be accurately tracked using Quuppa-enabled IoT devices.”

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