Yes, There’s a “Right” Kind of Indoor Positioning System For Your Needs. Here’s Where to Start.

By Josh Childs, V.P. of U.S. Sales

When you’re looking for the right indoor positioning system to track staff and / or assets, you have a wide variety of underlying technologies to choose from—Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Bluetooth, ultrasonic, InfraRed WiFi, Passive RFID, barcodes and cellular data.  On top of that, there are different locating algorithms that run on top of that hardware; the math behind the software can be as important as the technology itself.

To be certain, one size doesn’t fit all, and choosing the right one is critical for ensuring staff, patient or inmate safety, as well as protecting facility equipment. 

The kind of customized indoor positioning technology Actall deals in—down to the room, highly accurate positioning—is built to serve those working or living in complex physical environments such as medical, corrections and mental-health facilities. 

Let’s explore how indoor positioning systems work, their best applications and how to pick the right system that meets the needs of your facility. 

Many Varieties of Tracking Technology, One Goal

There are dozens of options that fulfill tracking needs, and there’s a reason they’re not interchangeable. For example, an ultrasonic system—which uses sound waves to locate people or assets when activated—will serve a much different purpose than an RTLS system that continuously routes location information through strategically placed locators. Other technologies such as barcodes and Passive RFID are great for tracking many, many assets at once (think an Amazon warehouse or a big-box store). 

There are fewer locating theories to choose from, although it is important to remember that almost all of them are exclusive to the RTLS manufacturer that you ultimately choose.  The predominant locating theories include zonal, triangulation (including angle of arrival and time of flight), fingerprinting and simple signal strength.  It is important to understand the overall theory (and perhaps some of the underlying math!) to evaluate whether the proposed solution is the right one or you.

Though they are distinct and unique forms of tracking technologies, the goal is the same: To help keep track of assets, staff or other people within a facility. But where they diverge is in their level of accuracy and how well they function in complex physical environments. What works in a warehouse typically won’t work in a corrections facility.

Location Data is Everywhere 

Tracking is entrenched in our modern daily lives. Our cell phones, like it or not, send location data constantly. And that data is very useful for purposes of GPS navigation, contact tracing (yes, of the COVID-19 variety) and so much more. 

That said, where cell phones fall short in their data sending or receiving capabilities is when they’re in a structurally dense area of a facility (think basements, underground parking garages, elevators) or an area that’s saturated with a high number of other cell phone users competing for bandwidth. We’ve all been in the grocery store and struggled to get a text out or experienced difficulty pulling up, say, the Rockies’ starting lineup from their website while we’re in the middle of a crowded stadium. 

So, while cell phones are great in certain locating situations, they’re not the most reliable or accurate method for tracking within certain types of facilities. 

When RTLS Systems Are the Right Call

When choosing an indoor positioning system that works best for your needs, consider the layout of your facility and the granularity needs in each of the functional areas where you need tracking technology. If it’s quite architecturally dense—that is, thick concrete walls, metal reinforcements or is constructed for high security—you’ll need technology that routes tracking signals quickly and accurately and won’t be impeded or altered by dense walls or multiple floors.

Another consideration is whether you’re looking to track staff or assets within a zone—that is, a larger, open space—or an individual room or cell. The more specific your tracking needs, the more important a custom solution is. 

Most importantly, a solution that allows for visibility into assets and staff simultaneously is a game-changer in settings such as hospitals and corrections facilities. For example, knowing with certainty how many wheelchairs are available on a given floor at any given time and their proximity to staff members allows for better patient care. And being able to respond to a staff duress call within a corrections facility with accuracy down to the cell—not just the corridor or floor—can reduce the possibility of serious harm. 

RTLS systems like Actall’s use locators positioned strategically in rooms or corridors to quickly route location information to a central source with a very high level of accuracy. The number of locators depends on the number of rooms or the level of specificity needed in tracking and is customizable on a case-by-case basis. 

Your RTLS Tracking Needs, Your Solution

No matter which tracking option you choose, the most important consideration is that your facility-specific tracking needs are being met. Whether complex or simple, Actall can deliver a solution that accurately and reliably serves you, your staff and anybody in your care.