Understanding RTLS: Passive and Active Tags

By Bob Hampe

In the world of real-time locating systems (RTLS), passive and active tags are rarely mentioned together because of their differing performance specs, economics and use cases. Active tags—devices that send out a continuous chirp or signal to a receiver—are functionally different from passive tags such as barcodes, NFC tags or true passive RFID. They require an external scan by an external device, like a handheld device or an exciter, which then activates the passive tag to transmit its information. 

The economics of each device differs as much as the performance. Active tags are typically more expensive to buy and require a power source (battery) which drives up the total ownership costs. Passive tags are cheap and easy to use, making them ideal for use in high volume environments.

While there isn’t any obvious way to merge the functionalities of these two tag types, there are certainly many use cases where both types of tags can be of use in the same facility. Passive and active tags, used together, can boost ROI and help your facility achieve efficiency goals along with improving patient care and interactions

Explore this technology advancement, and how we envision our clients can benefit. 

Active and Passive Tracking Needs 

Behavioral healthcare and hospitals are full of assets that staff are interested in tracking, from general supplies to wheelchairs to MRI equipment. The mostly costly items are perfect candidates for active tags, which can alert staff and administration of their location and movement in real-time. The high replacement costs of these assets easily justify the additional cost of an active tag.

Many healthcare facilities also want to track the use of high-volume items such as boxes of gloves or cleaning supplies for inventory and ordering purposes. However, placing active tags on these lower-value items, which could number in the hundreds or thousands within a healthcare facility or system, is cost-prohibitive.

It’s these items—high-volume but lower-value supplies—that are perfect candidates for passive RTLS tech. 

This technology is far less complicated than it sounds: If you’ve ever been to a store and accidentally walked out with an unscanned item, that item’s barcode will excite locators on either side of the door and send out an alarm. Embarrassing? Maybe. Low-cost and effective? Absolutely so. 

The Solution: Active and Passive Working Together

Novel solutions, powered by advancements in Bluetooth™-enabled RTLS technology, help facility administrators track both the movement of people within a facility and staff use of high-volume supplies by using locators (the active RTLS piece) as well as through passive tags that “talk” on the same frequency with no external equipment necessary. 

Using radio frequency identification (RFID) or other types of passive tags cuts down on unnecessary ordering of supplies, helps track things like uniforms and patient clothing, and can contribute significantly to boosting efficiencies within healthcare settings. 

The benefits of active tags are, by now, well understood: Staff and patient locations are easily accessed, duress alarms go out quickly and high-value items are never more than a chirp away. Combining passive and active technologies is the next, logical step in improving ROI and enhancing safety and efficiency facility-wide. 

At Actall, our engineers are hard at work developing and refining this first-in-the-industry solution that combines the power of both passive and active tags. Passive tags can be integrated within existing ATLAS active-tag architecture with only small changes to locators, and will run fully on our ATLAS platform with no external devices needed for scanning passive tags. That’s right: no handheld scanners, no new protocols and fast activation. 

Stay tuned for more information on this new offering, and don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions