By Daniel Yang and Fabrizio Polo
Posted January 18, 2023
In 2022, we marked several exciting advancements in our organization. From the launch of our Bluetooth™-enabled devices to expanding into the Australian market, our team was busy—and no team members more so than our engineers.
A question we frequently get when talking to prospective customers about our industry-leading RTLS solutions is how we manage to raise alarms to our customers so quickly. Three seconds or less is our standard, and it’s also our promise to customers. When lives hang in the balance and help is needed quickly, there just isn’t room for delay.
How does Actall’s alarm time compete with other industry players?
It’s no secret that Actall prides itself on fast alarm times, but how does that compare to other organizations’ RTLS? According to Daniel, Actall is different in a few key ways. There is a high degree of consideration before “hardware and software changes, improvements, and testing of the alarming system” to ensure reliability and responsiveness of the alarms. “Receiving alarms 99% of the time under three seconds is a critical requirement for Actall, and the engineering team has gone to great lengths throughout the hardware and software development process to achieve that.”
Why do other organizations struggle to get alarms out quickly?
Given how essential fast alarm times are, especially in complex physical environments like correctional facilities, it’s surprising how much variability there can be for alarm elucidation. Whether alarm signals are absorbed by concrete walls, slowed down by competing signals or lost in temperamental WiFi signals, it’s hard to get alarm signals where they need to go. But luckily for our customers, “Actall has focused on products that are on-premise to customers’ facilities,” says Daniel. “There’s no cloud service that needs to be relied upon that can introduce instability or slowness.” Having an entire RTLS system integrated in one spot—plus 24/7 support from our team—means facility managers and employees can trust in the system’s resilience.
What can you share about Actall’s underlying technology as it relates to alarm relay?
Fast alarm elucidation is a priority, but how does the process actually work? Again, from Daniel: “Alarms are triggered voluntarily (push button) or non-voluntarily (pull cord), and those alarms are sent via either 900MHz or 2.4GHz frequencies depending on the type of tag. The alarms are received by the gateways, which are in fixed positions inside facilities. The gateways then route the alarms to Crisis Controller or HubSens, which will alert a user who can call for assistance to the location where the alarming device is.”
And unlike competitors, Actall’s RTLS finds a way around reinforced concrete, stairwells, multiple stories, kitchens and more. “Actall incorporates LoRaWAN, meaning backhaul alarms can be received across larger areas and in more architecturally dense facilities. Alarms using LoRaWAN are quick to reach the headend and are reliable due to the robustness of the protocol.”
What technological advances has the engineering team made to provide this alarm speed?
This speed didn’t arise by itself—it was the result of the dedicated work of our engineering teams. From Fabrizio: “We’ve put a lot of effort into optimizing usage of our LoRa (long range) radios. We maximize available bandwidth by using custom data compression. Using less bandwidth increases reliability, which decreases latency: radio messages go through without error the first time in fractions of a second, and we don’t have to waste valuable time retrying.”
Our network topology is simultaneously optimized for installation cost and low alarm latency. Rather than rely on a mesh network where multiple “hops” might be necessary to send data back to a server, our “star of stars” network topology means every message is only one radio away from hard-wired ethernet. This drastically reduces latency when compared to networks where data may take a circuitous route to the server, and also reduces installation cost because not all nodes require ethernet connections.”
What’s next for Actall’s engineering team?
Never a team to rest on their laurels, the engineering team is hard at work developing leading-edge solutions to RTLS problems. Daniel says a significant update to the locating node as well as updates to the heavy-duty tag’s hardware and firmware are in the works. “The updates expand the types of measured data, which will further improve reliability of alarms and battery life. The addition of Bluetooth™ opens up compatibility with off-the-shelf products and partnerships with device manufacturers. These improvements will ultimately provide more options for our customers.”
Fabrizio shares his excitement about edge intelligence: Actall is “moving more logic out of the server and into locating nodes and tags.” The team is also working on solutions to add more sensors and tags with bidirectional communication enabled via BLE, opening up possibilities for extreme battery life (multi-year).
Have questions about our RTLS solution? Curious about using it in your facility? Please contact us.