It was a fun weekend harnessing our embedded programming expertise at SAPHI to build and our new ultra-wideband positioning system. This relatively new technology has allowed our engineers to provide our clients with high-level position tracking in areas where they cannot use GPS. But why does this matter? What is the point of this technology?
What is Ultra-wideband Technology (UWB)?
Put simply, UWB is a short-range, wireless communication protocol like WIFI or Bluetooth. UWB sends messages to a bunch of nodes and waits for a response from each one, and it uses the time it took to receive that response to calculate its distance. This calculation is using the “Time of flight method”. A simple way to visualise it is – one UWB node sends out a “Hello message”, seeing if any other nodes are out there, a nearby UWB node will hear this message then reply “hey I am here”. The first node then uses the time it took to receive this message to calculate its distance relative to it.
So are there any benefits to this tech?
The benefits of this technology for embedded programming are honestly endless. This technology can be applied to many processes requiring position, distance and location tracking. A specific example could be its application in warehouse automation. Amazon, for example, has a giant warehouse filled with seemingly infinite items. With a UWB system, employees can locate items quickly and efficiently when a customer places an order, reducing downtime.
You could even apply the technology to improve the safety of individuals. It can be utilised in manufacturing settings where employees are required to maintain a minimum distance from heavy machinery; a UWB positioning system can signal the machine to power down when a worker crosses that minimum distance.
In general, UWB technology is applicable to anything that requires a more accurate location reading than what GPS can provide. The standard GPS location tends to be accurate within two meters, whereas UWB can be accurate to within +-10cm.
Are there drawbacks?
One of the most notable drawbacks is the limited range each UWB node has. The range varies depending upon how often you need an updated location, position or distance. The faster the updates required, the more nodes required. The system we have displayed in the following video has an update rate of 25 Hz over 150m, which means the UWB system sends 25 position updates of the object per second over the 150m stretch. This distance may sound like a lot, but it depends on the speed of the object you are tracking. The faster the object, the less accurate the real-time tracking. The nodes also need to be in line of sight for them to communicate because the signals are not powerful enough to travel through walls, so if your warehouse is a maze of thick walls, you may need a few extra nodes. For example, Woolworths would theoretically need a node per aisle for the system to operate effectively or a few nodes high above the aisles.
While this technology has its advantages, it may not be well suited to every form of position tracking, but when it applies, it can increase productivity immensely. UWB systems fully completed and ready to run upon purchase, a lot of work goes into setting these systems up. The UWB device requires some form of microcontroller and efficient embedded programming customised to the specific use case.
The implementation of a UWB system may sound complicated and confusing, but that is precisely why SAPHI is here. Our expert team has years of experience dealing with the design and implementation of these systems to improve safety standards, save time and boost profit margins for our clients. To find out more information about how UWB technology can help your company, reach out to our friendly team anytime here.
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