The Quuppa Intelligent Locating System™ leverages off-the-shelf Bluetooth® radio chips that can be firmware updated to operate in line with Quuppa Direction Finding specifications. In this way, any device that supports Bluetooth Low Energy (LE)(even older versions) can become trackable. For example, by installing the appropriate mobile app, your phone can become your museum guide.

At the core of Quuppa’s Bluetooth system is the SW Suite, which, among different tools and applications, contains a positioning engine developed over more than 15 years. The Quuppa founding team began work on advanced direction finding and location algorithms, as well as antenna array modeling, as far back as 2004. In fact, in 2010, some of the founding members were among the key contributors to a new standardization initiative, the core of which was released in 2019 as part of the new Bluetooth Direction Finding feature.

The Bluetooth Core Specification defines the base methodology behind Bluetooth Direction Finding, but most of the implementation aspects (encompassing hardware, software, and firmware) are left to vendors to design and implement. In other words, anything that is related to the actual location system architecture and applications is not covered by the standard. Thus, the Quuppa Intelligent Locating System can be seen as a vendor-specific implementation over Bluetooth Direction Finding that adds a wide range of additional capabilities for highly accurate and reliable low-latency positioning and tracking at different levels of required precision. In this article, we address some of the most common questions that we get asked about Bluetooth® location services, Ultra Wide Band, and the Quuppa Intelligent Locating System.

Is Bluetooth Technology the Most Flexible Location Services Technology?

Bluetooth® technology supports different location methodologies and enables location-based solutions all the way from simple presence detection to reliable centimeter-level positioning with different degrees of accuracy, from proximity to high accuracy and everything in between. Already, Bluetooth is the technology of choice for many location-based services related to either asset tracking (real-time location systems – RTLS) or indoor positioning systems for wayfinding solutions such as mobile phone navigation.

Furthermore, two more factors are unique: the standard’s global adoption (operating on the 2.4 GHz ISM band) and mass-market economies of scale (billions of existing devices are already Bluetooth enabled with many more coming daily) offer a powerful advantage over other positioning technologies like UWB (Ultra Wide Band), for example.

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Are Bluetooth Technology Positioning Systems Reliable?

Yes. Over the years, vendors and members of the Bluetooth® community have significantly contributed to the constant evolution of Bluetooth technology. Improvements and updates are coming regularly for the foreseeable future as well.

With the introduction of the Quuppa Intelligent Location system, it is possible to create robust and reliable location systems leveraging the Bluetooth Direction Finding methodology. This has allowed Bluetooth based RTLS to grow into a highly robust and reliable technology. For example, we have countless real-world deployments of Quuppa Direction Finding positioning systems in some of the harshest and most demanding environments in the world, ranging from industrial facilities to logistics centers and sports arenas, all providing reliable data.

Bluetooth positioning systems can also be successfully installed in metallic environments. It is a common misconception that Bluetooth positioning systems are not suitable for metallic or other environments that typically exhibit a lot of interference from multipath signal propagation. By leveraging a mature and robust positioning engine, the multipath issues can be addressed easily.

If you’d like to learn more, Quuppa was recently invited to present at a Bluetooth webinar where we gave concrete examples of how the Quuppa ILS can reliably operate in harsh metallic environments affected by multipath propagation.

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Is Bluetooth Technology a Future-Proof Solution of Choice?

Yes, Bluetooth® is a true standard technology to which many companies from all around the world contribute to daily to improve existing functionalities and propose new features. It is a transparent process to which anyone can contribute, irrespective of the size of the company sponsoring their work.

Billions of electronic devices and radio chips are manufactured every year, and a large majority of them are already Bluetooth enabled by design. Furthermore, since many features can be enabled, even after manufacturing, with a simple software or firmware update to the device, this really helps future proof the technology.

Last but not least, and especially important for mobile devices, is the fact that since Bluetooth technology globally operates on the 2.4 GHz ISM band, similarly to WiFi, no dedicated hardware, such as extra antennas, needs to be added to the BOM (bill of materials) of the mobile devices like phones and handsets.

What Are the Benefits of Bluetooth Positioning Systems Against Ultra Wide Band?

Ultra Wide Band (UWB) has emerged as a solution for high-accuracy positioning and has some great capabilities. For example, its wide bandwidth means it produces highly accurate ranging measurements under normal conditions, and it also requires little expertise for an end customer to build an accurate measurement system, e.g., starting from a development kit.

Recently, some high-end smartphones have added support for UWB to enable device-to-device positioning (like Airtag and SmartThing), which can be used both for asset finding and keyless entry. UWB has thus far always been co-located with Bluetooth® technology in commercial applications, whether it’s in an asset tag, a car door, or a smartphone. In this context, UWB is typically used complementarily with Bluetooth technology, providing the location information when the devices are already in proximity to each other.

UWB does have some technological and market constraints.

  • It requires additional silicon content and antennas when equipping mobile devices (e.g., phone, tablet, handset, even tags)
  • Only a limited number of vendors produce the technology (e.g., a small number of vendors use 802.15.4z (high or low-pulse repetition – HPR/LPR) with others using proprietary solutions, resulting in market fragmentation since not all UWB implementations are interoperable
  • The UWB ecosystem remains relatively small.

There are technical limitations as well, including higher power consumption and shorter maximum range than other technologies.

Bluetooth® Direction Finding, in contrast, offers significantly longer battery life on tracking tags, longer maximum range, and support for battery friendly or interoperable IoT gateway functionality on locators. Bluetooth Direction Finding solutions typically also have a lower total cost of ownership, accounting for initial planning and deployment costs along with long-term maintenance. Bluetooth technology also benefits from economies of scale in manufacturing and its position as a global platform with billions of compatible devices already on the market.

UWB will by no means replace Bluetooth technology. There are many product classes that can get the target performance from Bluetooth technology alone. As we heard from Quuppa’s Fabio Belloni in the Bluetooth SIG’s positioning webinar, Bluetooth Direction Finding can be used to enable high-accuracy location services in incredibly challenging conditions. For example, Quuppa’s solutions are used in hockey and soccer telemetry, as well as for asset tracking in harsh industrial environments. And while some portions of the automotive keyless entry market are leaning on UWB, carmakers like Ford have launched Bluetooth Phone as a Key. It remains to be seen whether Bluetooth based or hybrid UWB/Bluetooth systems will ultimately emerge as the optimal automotive keyless entry solution when taking into account accuracy, cost, and user experience.

 

What Is the Difference Between Bluetooth Direction Finding and Bluetooth Beaconing?

Bluetooth® beacons, introduced around 2010, have become so prevalent that whenever Bluetooth location services are mentioned, people tend to assume that beacons are involved. However, while beacons are by no means an obsolete technology, they are far from the state of the art Bluetooth location services technologies in today’s market.

Beaconing solutions use the RSSI (received signal strength indicator) methodology for calculating location, which means that positioning calculations are based on received signal strength or power. While this was a significant technical leap when beacons were first introduced, the methodology is limited in the accuracy it can provide, typically about two to ten meters. Although this is perfectly acceptable for many use cases where presence or proximity location is the goal, it is not enough to compete with high-accuracy location systems, possibly needing to offer reliable location in harsh environments as well.

Instead of RSSI methodologies, Bluetooth Direction Finding solutions use calculations based on angular measurements to determine location. This method can robustly handle the challenges posed by radio propagation interference, multipath reflections, and obstructions. This means systems can operate reliably in harsh environments like industrial plants, warehouses, and manufacturing facilities while empowering business and mission-critical operations. The Bluetooth Direction Finding approach also supports higher accuracy, even down to a few centimeters, with the latency of a small fraction of a second. This enables location-based solutions in use cases that truly require precision positioning, low latency, and a high degree of scalability, all at a cost that makes it possible to achieve a compelling return on investment.

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Quuppa Intelligent Locating System™は、既製のBluetooth®無線チップを活用し、ファームウェアの更新でQuuppaの方向検知仕様との連携ができるため、(旧バージョンを含む)Bluetooth LE対応のデバイスであれば測位機能を持たせることができます。例えば、モバイルアプリをインストールすることで、スマートフォンが美術館の音声ガイドに早変わり、ということも可能になります。

QuuppaのBluetoothシステムの中核にあるのがSW Suiteです。SW Suiteには、各種のツールやアプリケーションに加え、15年以上にわたって開発された測位エンジンが含まれています。Quuppaを創設したチームは、今を遡ること2004年には先進的な方向検知と位置情報アルゴリズム、さらにはアレイアンテナのモデリングへの取り組みを開始していました。さらに2010年には、創設メンバーの一部がBluetoothの新しい標準化イニシアチブにも大きく関わり、そこで行われた作業の中核部分は後に新しいBluetooth方向検知機能の一部分として2019年に公開されました。

Bluetoothコア仕様にはBluetooth方向検知機能の基本的な手法が規定されていますが、実装面の大部分(ハードウェア、ソフトウェア、ファームウェア)はベンダー側での設計、実装に任せ、仕様では位置情報システムの具体的なアーキテクチャやアプリケーションに関連する部分は扱っていません。Quuppa Intelligent Locating Systemはこのベンダー実装に相当するもので、Bluetooth方向検知機能に各種機能を追加し、要件に沿った精度で正確性と信頼性の高い低遅延の測位・追跡を実現します。この記事では、Bluetooth®位置情報サービス、UWB(超広帯域無線通信)、Quuppa Intelligent Locating Systemに関していただく質問の中でも、特に頻度の高いものについてお答えします。

Bluetoothは最も柔軟性の高い位置情報サービス技術?

Bluetooth®には複数の位置情報手法が含まれるため、シンプルな存在検知からcm級の高信頼性の測位までの様々な位置情報ソリューションを、概略値から高精度まであらゆるレベルで実現できます。Bluetoothは既に数多くの位置情報サービスで選ばれる技術となっており、資産追跡(リアルタイム位置情報システム、RTLS)や、携帯電話のナビ機能といった道案内ソリューションを支える屋内測位システムに使用されています。

これに加え、Bluetoothには(2.4 GHzのISMバンドで)グローバルに採用されていること、および世間一般に広く知られ、その普及率の高さによるスケールメリットがある(Bluetooth搭載デバイスは既に数十億台に上り、現在も日々増え続けている)という、他には見られない2つの特徴があり、それがUWB等の他の測位技術に対する強力な優位性につながっています。

Bluetooth技術を使用した測位システムは信頼できる?

はい、信頼できます。これまで長年にわたり、ベンダーおよびBluetooth®コミュニティのメンバー企業各社の大きな貢献によって、Bluetooth技術は絶え間なく進化してきました。今後も、定期的な改良やアップデートが予定されています。

Quuppa Intelligent Locating Systemの登場で、Bluetoothの方向検知機能を活用した、堅ろうで信頼性の高い位置情報システムが構築できるようになりました。こうして、BluetoothベースのRTLSが高い堅ろう性と信頼性を持った技術へと発展しました。世界で最も過酷で厳しい環境の中でQuuppaの方向検知・測位システムが実際に活用されている例は数え切れないほどあり、産業施設や物流センターからスポーツアリーナまで、様々な場所で信頼性の高いデータを提供しています。

またBluetoothの測位システムは、金属の多い環境下でも有効に機能します。Bluetoothの測位システムが金属の多い環境等、マルチパス伝搬による干渉が多く見られる環境には適さないというのはよくある誤解です。マルチパスの問題は、成熟した堅ろうな測位エンジンを活用すれば簡単に対応できます。

先日行われたBluetoothウェビナーで、Quuppa Intelligent Locating Systemがマルチパス伝搬の影響を受ける金属の多い厳しい環境下でいかに高い信頼性を持って機能できるかというプレゼンテーションを行いました。詳しくは、同プレゼンテーションをご覧ください。

Bluetooth技術は将来的にも標準技術たり得るのでしょうか

はい、今後も標準技術であり続けます。Bluetooth®は、世界中の企業が既存機能の改良と新機能の提案に日々取り組む、真の標準技術です。企業規模とは関係なく誰でも貢献できる、透明性あるプロセスで取り組みが進められています。

毎年数十億ものデバイスや無線チップが製造されていますが、その大半は設計段階でBluetoothを搭載しています。いったん製造された後も、デバイスのソフトウェアやファームウェアを更新するだけで数多くの機能を実装できます。これも、将来的に標準技術たり得ることを保証する上で、とても役に立ちます。

また、特にモバイルデバイスについて重要な点として、Bluetoothが世界のどこでもWi-Fiと同様に2.4GHz ISMを使用し、携帯電話等のモバイルデバイスでアンテナその他の専用ハードウェアを追加する必要がないことも最後に挙げておきます。

Bluetoothの測位システムはUWBに比べてどのような利点がありますか?

高精度測位技術として新たに注目を集めるUWBは、すばらしい能力を持っています。例えば、帯域幅が広いため通常の条件下で極めて正確な測距ができるほか、開発キットの使用等により、専門知識をほとんど要することなく最終顧客が正確な測定システムを構築できます。

最近では、一部の高級スマートフォンでUWBの搭載が始まり、デバイス間の測位ができるようになって紛失防止やキーレスエントリー等に活用されています(AirTagやSmartThings等)。これまでのところ、UWBは、紛失防止タグ、自動車のドア、スマートフォン等の一般向けアプリケーションでは必ずBluetooth®と合わせて搭載されています。通常、UWBはBluetoothを補完する位置付けで、デバイスが近接している場合の位置情報の提供に使用されます。

UWBには、技術と市場展開の面で以下の制約があります。

  • スマートフォン、タブレット、携帯電話、さらにはタグをも含めたモバイルデバイスに搭載する際には、シリコン部品やアンテナの追加が必要
  • この技術で生産できるベンダーは、数が限られる(802.15.4z(高・低パルス繰り返し、HPR/LPR)を使用するベンダーの数は少なく、他のベンダーは独自のソリューションを使用する)ため、UWBを搭載していても互換性があるとは限らず、市場の断片化につながっています
  • UWBのエコシステムは今も比較的小規模なままです

他の技術に比べて電力消費が大きい、通信範囲が狭い等、仕様面での制約もあります。

その一方で、Bluetooth®の方向検知機能では紛失防止タグの電池寿命が大幅に長くなり、通信範囲はより広くなりました。探知器には低消費電力や相互運用性のあるIoTゲートウェイ機能を持たせることができます。Bluetoothの方向検知ソリューションでは、初期の計画・配備費用、長期的な維持費用も含む、TCO(総所有コスト)も一般的に低い傾向が見られます。Bluetoothには、生産におけるスケールメリットと、相互運用性のあるデバイスが市場に既に数十億台も存在するグローバルなプラットフォームであるという位置付けによる利点もあります。

UWBがBluetoothに取って代わることは決してないでしょう。目標とする性能をBluetoothだけで実現できる製品の種類は数多くあります。Bluetooth SIGのポジショニングに関するウェビナーでQuuppaのファビオ・ベローニ氏が語ったように、Bluetoothの方向検知機能は極めて困難な条件下で正確性の高い位置情報サービスを実現するために使用できます。例えば、Quuppaのソリューションはホッケーやサッカーのテレメトリーで使用されるほか、過酷な産業現場環境における資産追跡にも使用されます。自動車のキーレスエントリーの一部ではUWBが多用される一方で、Ford等、Bluetooth搭載のスマートフォンをキーとして使用する例も出てきました。正確性、コスト、使い勝手を考慮したときに、自動車のキーレスエントリーで最終的に最適とされるのがBluetoothベースのソリューションなのか、UWBとBluetoothのハイブリッドソリューションとなるのかはまだ不透明です。

Bluetoothの方向検知機能とビーコン機能の違いは?

2010年頃登場したBluetooth®ビーコンは今ではかなり普及が進み、Bluetoothの位置情報サービスといえばビーコンを連想するまでになっています。ビーコンは決して陳腐化した技術ではないものの、今日の市場における最先端のBluetooth位置情報サービスには程遠いものです。

ビーコンソリューションでは測位にRSSI(受信信号強度)を使用するため、測位は受信した信号の強度に基づいて行われます。ビーコンは初登場時点では画期的な技術でしたが、一般的には2mから10mと、正確性には限りがありました。存在検知または概略位置の特定が目標である多くのユースケースでは全く問題になりませんが、場合によっては過酷な環境下でも信頼性の高い位置情報を提供しなければならない高精度の位置情報システムと競うには十分ではありません。

Bluetooth方向検知ソリューションでは、RSSIの代わりに角度測定に基づいた計算で位置を特定します。この方法では、無線信号の伝搬による干渉、マルチパス反射、障害等の課題に確実に対応できます。こうして、産業プラント、倉庫、製造施設等の厳しい環境下でも高い信頼性で稼動し、ビジネスに不可欠な基幹業務を支えられるシステムが実現できます。Bluetooth方向検知では1秒未満の低遅延と数cm単位の高精度も可能であるため、

高精度測位、低遅延、高い拡張性が適切に配されたユースケース用の位置情報ソリューションを、投資に対して十分過ぎるリターンを得られる形で実装できます。

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