Before we had connected devices and M2M communication, people had to manage assets the hard way—manually. If you wanted to know how many of a specific product were in stock, you went to the warehouse to find out. If you lost a piece of equipment, you’d look around until you found it, or just count it as a loss. Not only was this difficult and time consuming, but it cost people money. Barcodes, scanners, and spreadsheets have made things easier, but businesses didn’t always know exactly where everything was and updating wasn’t always automated. With the Internet of Things (IoT), new technology has been created that substantially improves asset tracking .
One of the first IoT technologies to emerge was radio frequency identification (RFID). RFID is a system of tags that wirelessly transfers data to identify and track objects . Like barcodes or magnetic strips on credit cards, RFID provides a unique identifier for objects, and when scanned or detected, their identifying information is retrieved automatically.
RFID uses active and passive transponders, which need to be within 30-100 feet of the reader to transmit data, so there are obvious physical limitations. To overcome this limitation, ultra-wideband (UWB) was created. UWB RFID has a much longer read range, works well in multi-path environments, and can store larger amounts of data. Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) proximity is an option as well. (You can learn more about BLE and proximity here and here.)
Another form of asset tracking technology is Global Positioning System (GPS) telematics. Combining telecommunications and informatics, telematics is the sending, receiving, and storing of information relating to remote objects, most commonly, vehicles. It integrates GPS (using satellite constellations) and/or GPRS (using cellular networks) technology to transfer real-time data to a centralized location about individual vehicles or fleets from almost anywhere.
These technologies have sparked tons of wireless M2M asset tracking applications. Here are four that are transforming asset management today.
Cargo View is AT&T’s real-time wireless asset tracking service that keeps users informed about their cargo while in transit using GPS telematics. FlightSafe is an added feature that monitors multiple aspects of the cargo, sending the information directly to the user’s tracking application. It monitors things like location, temperature, pressure, light, vibration, and motion, whether the cargo is traveling on land, overseas, or in-air. So you’ll know if there is a problem with your shipment and where it is at all times.
Axeda’s Vehicle Telematics is a cloud-based service for connecting remote on-board diagnostic (OBD) devices and vehicles. They collect data from the connected vehicles—such as driving speeds, idling time, parking location, distances traveled, and hard stops—then interpret the data into safety information and vehicle diagnostics for drivers. Insurance carriers can also use the data to analyze driving patterns, encourage safe driving practices, and provide lower premiums for good drivers.
The NFC Group has created several asset tracking devices. Their B360 Tracker, which can be used for high-value freight monitoring (similar to AT&T’s Cargo View), can also be used for fuel sensing and management in electricity generators. A B360 is installed in each generator, and, using GPS telematics, relays when fuel levels are high or low, alerts when a generator needs urgent attention, and secures the generator with active alarms. It can also monitor the efficiency and performance of those who are refilling or working on the tanks.
WiseTrack has created an asset tracking service for law enforcement to encourage efficiency and accountability among officers. It uses RFID to track items such as radios, cell phones, police gear, electronics, high-risk assets, and vehicles. Their asset tracking device can be “checked out” to an officer for a period of time (or issued permanently) to take with them on duty, to track things like who was last seen with a certain asset or the location of missing keys or radios.
As we all know, assets—whether they’re radios, vehicles, generators, or people—are valuable. Knowing where they are, how they’re functioning, and if they’re safe is crucial. And wireless asset tracking is transforming the way companies do business for that reason. It’s just another way the IoT is making its contribution to business and society as a whole.