U-Blox kits use Bluetooth for indoor tracking

  • July 12, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson

Swiss firm U-Blox has released two explorer kits aimed at letting product developers evaluate the potential of Bluetooth direction finding and high-precision indoor positioning.

Designed for low power consumption, simple deployment and low cost of ownership, the XPLR-AOA-1 and XPLR-AOA-2 explorer kits make it easier to test the technology’s capabilities to enable applications such as access control, collision detection, smart appliances, indoor positioning and asset tracking.

GNSS technology has solved the problem of locating people or assets outdoors. Meanwhile, no technology has yet managed to achieve widespread adoption for localising people or assets in indoor environments such as warehouses. Recognising the growing demand for more accurate indoor positioning, the Bluetooth SIG released Bluetooth direction finding, improving previous RSSI (receiver signal strength indicator)-based options.

Bluetooth direction finding makes it possible to determine the direction that radio signals travel from a mobile tag to one or several fixed anchor points. Using angle-of-arrival (AoA) technology, anchor points comprising an antenna array that is connected to a Bluetooth receiver can detect the direction, or angle, to the mobile tag, which transmits a Bluetooth signal. When a constellation of such multi-antenna anchors is deployed, AoA technology can be used to triangulate the precise location of a mobile device or tag.

The explorer kits showcase one of the first complete Bluetooth-based tracking methods from the tag to the cloud to offer sub-metre-level accuracy in indoor environments.

Comprising a U-Blox C211 antenna board and a C209 tag, as well as the necessary software, the XPLR-AOA-1 has all the required components to evaluate AoA technology. Applications include detecting whether a person or object is approaching a door, avoiding collisions between moving objects and directing a camera at a moving tag.

The XPLR-AOA-2 demonstrates the firm’s high-precision indoor position proof of concept built around Bluetooth direction finding. The kit comprises four C211 antenna boards, four C209 tags and all the software required to leverage AoA technology for diverse applications.

Both kits use the firm’s Nina-B4 Bluetooth 5.1 low energy module featuring Nordic Semiconductor’s nRF52833 Bluetooth Low Energy system-on-chip (SoC). Running on the SoC’s embedded MCU, U-Blox U-Connect Locate software calculates the angles of the incoming signals with no additional processing required. In the case of the XPLR-AOA-2, positioning engine software is included to triangulate the position of the tag.

To improve the experience for the end-user, U-Blox is partnering with Traxmate, whose enterprise asset tracking platform is supported by the XPLR-AOA-2. This offers a hardware-agnostic, cloud-based tracking system that makes it easier to set up the tracking environment, create buildings, upload floor plans and specify the placement of the anchor points. Users can use the offering to track the location of assets in real time via the web or a dedicated smartphone app.

“We see huge potential for global Bluetooth ecosystem to finally deliver low power, high precision for locating people and things indoors,” said Erik Carlberg, senior product manager at U-Blox. “We look forward to engaging with early adopters of the technology and fine-tuning our solution, expanding the positioning expertise of U-Blox into the indoor environment.”

U-Blox has also launched its PointPerfect location service, a GNSS augmentation data service designed from the ground up to be accurate, reliable and immediately available. The service enables the fast-growing demand for high precision GNSS including autonomous vehicles such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), service robots, machinery automation, micro mobility, and other navigation applications.

Delivered via mobile internet or L-band satellite signals, PointPerfect broadcasts on a continental scale with homogeneous coverage in Europe and the contiguous USA, including up to roughly 22km off coastlines to any number of end-devices, delivering sub-10cm positioning accuracy and convergence of just seconds.

Furthermore, adopting the Spartn messaging format combined with the lightweight and secure MQTT IoT delivery protocol results in a real-time, bandwidth-optimised, cost-efficient system for mass-market applications.

PointPerfect cooperates with U-Blox positioning and connectivity hardware, providing a one-stop-shop from silicon to cloud. Because it is based on the open Spartn GNSS correction data format, its use is not restricted to a single hardware provider.

PointPerfect is delivered via the Thingstream IoT service delivery platform, an enterprise-grade cloud platform that supports billions of messages. Thingstream provides a self-serve environment where users can manage their device fleet, optimising cost and performance through flexible and predictable pricing plans. The service is backed by a full warranty, 99.9% uptime availability, and round-the-clock reliability.

“PointPerfect seamlessly integrates our advanced high accuracy GNSS augmentation service with industry-leading positioning and connectivity hardware,” said Franco de Lorenzo, principal product manager at U-Blox. “Designed for increased flexibility, PointPerfect lowers barriers to adoption and supports scaled-up high precision positioning, even in segments where such solutions would previously have been considered impractical. Moreover, innovative delivery options fully integrated into our easy-to-use Thingstream IoT service delivery platform eliminate complexities and allow users to engage more efficiently, reducing time to market.”

With headquarters in Thalwil, Switzerland, U-Blox has offices in Europe, Asia and the USA.