Imagine walking into a warehouse with seemingly endless rows of palletized products stacked multiple levels high. Between the rows of products, there are autonomous robots zooming up and down narrow aisles picking products off of the shelves. But these robots aren’t just forking pallets of products from shelves. They have the precision and spatial awareness to pick individual boxes, if not single units off of a shelf as well.
While this is an example and level of localization is still far from reality for most warehouses today, a reemerging technology called Ultra-Wideband (UWB) may soon change this for many in the near future.
After struggling with adoption for years, UWB technology is getting a new lease on life. It’s being adopted by big-name companies in a wide variety of applications from smart device connectivity and security, to retail traffic monitoring. However, the task UWB most excels at is finding things within a few inches of precision compared to competing technologies such as Bluetooth and WiFi.
But how exactly does it work? And what IoT applications may it be most relevant to?
How it Works
As the “wideband” name implies, the technology can transmit across a wide range of radio bandwidth, from 500 MHz to several gigahertz to be exact as shown in Figure 1.
The transmission is short distance (up to 30 feet) with a low energy profile over a large portion of the radio spectrum. The packets are exchanged using “Time of Flight” measurements as shown in Figure 2.
The two objects can be fixed or mobile and can be programmed to start ranging each other as soon as they are in RF communication range of each other.
Apple: Key Influencer
Apple is a key influencer and eco-system supporter. All Apple iPhones starting with the Apple 11 in 2019 started incorporating UWB using Apple’s proprietary U1 chip as shown in Figure 3. The Apple Watch starting with Series 6 also includes the technology.
Did you know that Apple Air Drop ™ is a modern UWB application that allows two IOS devices to exchange photos when the devices are in proximity? Apple AirTags ™ is also another relatively new application offering precise localization tracking ability for items with affixed UWB tags.
From an ecosystem perspective, Apple encourages the development of “Nearby” interactions with their U1 chip with mobile applications and hardware accessories as discussed here.
The “UWB Alliance” and “FIRA Consortium” comprised of several mega technology companies, such as Bosch, Apple, Samsung, and Cisco, are creating standards to pave the way for innovation and advancement of the UWB technology.
Relevance to IoT
As standardization across platforms continues, there is still opportunity for development with UWB such as Apple’s “Nearby” interactions initiatives or other custom applications. Given this, opportunities are abound for first mover advantage concerning UWB technology incorporated into IoT projects.
“There is a first-mover opportunity concerning UWB technology applied to IoT projects for companies that keep user needs front and center while selecting and developing solutions.”
UWB is generating a lot of buzz because of the many problems it’s capable of solving, particularly via IoT. However, organizations must separate true UWB based opportunities solving core pain points with sound value propositions, from “nice to have” applications that may not warrant the investment.
Some of the most compelling and promising UWB IoT applications include the following:
- Autonomous robots in warehouses to improve speed and efficiency of order fulfillment
- Secured device to device transactions (i.e., payments and drone product delivery)
- Secured access applications (i.e., smart locks, unmanned retail)
- Augmented / Virtual reality gaming, training, and social applications
- Retail traffic pattern analytics
These are just a handful of examples of the possibilities. More are sure to come. For savvy organizations with a customer-centric innovation process, UWB can be a source of competitive advantage.
We Can Help
It’s no mystery that when IoT projects are successful, they create direction, insights and visibility into your organization that can be invaluable at growing and improving business operations. However, it’s an endeavor that requires the right partner to help hone-in the right solution that will hit the target. Our team demystifies technology and brings years of wisdom from lessons learned to help you position your business for success.
A great place to start is with what we call a Napkin. This is a rough sketch of your idea, concept, or vision. Hallsten Innovations would be happy to review your napkin idea and provide feedback.
Please send them our way or reach out for an introductory call by emailing email@example.com.
References for Further Reading:
- https://arxiv.org/pdf/2103.13488.pdf (IIoT reference)