When we talk about tracking, we are not referring to a single technology. Rather, we are talking about a convergence of different technologies that can be used to track the location and movement of inventory, people devices, objects, fleets, etc. This article presents the most used tracking technologies in a nutshell.
1. Global Positioning System (GPS)
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a network of orbiting satellites. A GPS tracking system uses microwave signals from the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) to track the device’s position, speed, time, and direction. GPS is a core of many tracking, navigation, and mapping services.
There is no need to list the GPS application fields. From emergency management to military, automotive, transportation, and logistics, GPS became a foundation to many software and hardware.
2. BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) Beacons
BLE beacon is a small hardware device that enables data transmission to mobile devices within a specific range. In most cases, recipients must have active Bluetooth (that allows tracking) and opt-in to accept the sender’s transmissions (for communication purpose).
BLE beacons have countless applications. In retail, they can enhance guest experience by providing virtual maps, sharing tips and relevant facts, and offering promotions and discounts. In hospitality, beacons are used to send welcome greetings to hotel guests and communicate route maps. In transportation, specifically at airports and train stations, travelers can receive important information on their trips. In hospitals, manufacturing sites, and warehouses, beacons allow track and locate assets.
3. Wi-Fi Location Tracking
In simple terms, Wi-Fi allows wirelessly connecting smart devices at high speed to the internet. It is ideal for unstructured movements in large venues such as airports, stadiums, or shopping centers.
For location intelligence purposes, Wi-Fi can capture smart device signals and thus count footfall, generate density heatmaps, track device movements and flow, identify new and returned visitors and calculate dwell time.
But Wi-Fi applications go beyond the wireless internet connection and tracking. Wi-Fi creates a foundation for IoT devices networks, for example, smart home systems.
Looking to the healthcare sector, Wi-Fi can be used to transmit data from connected medical equipment directly to mobile devices or workstations. This allows healthcare providers to access real-time patient information from anywhere, eliminating the need for physical patient records and improving patient well-being accuracy and level of information.
4. QR Code (Quick Response)
QR is a data-encoding system via a small, digitally encoded squares and dots pattern, designed to be read via scanners or cameras. In essence, this is one of the basic applications of computer vision with a wide range of commercial applications.
QR codes can store many different types of data and can be used for many purposes. It can contain text data, weblinks, images, and even bank account or credit card information to process payments. The list could continue.
5. RFID Location Tracking
RFID, or Radio-frequency identification, stores data using electronic tags with radio signals that can be scanned and read by special RFID readers on a short distance.
There are two types of RFID tracking: passive and active RFID. Unlike active RFID, passive systems do not actively track movement in real-time. Active tags are mainly used for storing specific object data, monitoring physical parameters (such as temperature, humidity, motion) and location. They are applied to various industries, such as construction, public works, security, and home automation.
6. NFC (Near Field Communication)
Near-field communication (NFC) is a wireless technology that provides two-way short-range (maximum of 10 cm) contactless connectivity.
NFC is an upgrade to the existing proximity card (RFID) standard that combines the interface of a smartcard and a reader into a single device. It allows users to seamlessly share content between digital devices, interact with contactless infrastructures, such as payment, ticketing, and access systems.
7. Ultra-wideband (UWB) Radar Imaging
Ultra-wideband (UWB) is a radio technology that uses a very low energy level for short-range, high-bandwidth communications over a large portion of the radio spectrum.
UWB is traditionally applied in non-cooperative radar imaging. Most recently, it is applied for sensor data collection, location, or accuracy tracking. Moreover, since September 2019, UWB support has been included in higher-range smartphones.
But how it works? If a smartphone with UWB, like the latest iPhone, is near another UWB device, the two devices start ranging or measuring their exact distance. For example, an airport or mall, with a beacon network installed, can monitor a pedestrian’s progress through the building and offer directions to a destination in real-time.
8. AI Deep Learning Vision
Deep learning is a branch of artificial intelligence (AI) that has become a foundation for computer vision development. Computer vision is now one of the most prominent research areas in AI and Computer Science since it has application potential in many industries.
The key element of computer vision is designing computer systems that can capture, understand, and interpret visual information from images and videos. Once data is obtained, it is converted using contextual knowledge into insights that guide the decision process.
Computer vision is widely used in retail. It helps analyze customer behavior, detect theft, and count visitors, which is especially useful for complying with the occupancy restrictions opposed due to the pandemic. Autonomous and transportation industries use computer vision for autonomous driving, traffic analytics, and smart public transportation development. In healthcare, computer vision is applied to support skin disease diagnostic, including different types of cancer.
9. Lidar (3D Laser Scanning)
Lidar (an acronym standing for light imaging, detection, and ranging) is a method used to measure distances (ranging) by illuminating the target with laser light and measuring the time it takes for the light to reflect back to the sensor.
Lidar is most commonly used in the location intelligence ecosystem to create high-resolution maps and train autonomous vehicle software to navigate through the environment safely.
10. Augmented Reality (AR)
Let’s imagine framing any object with a tablet or a smartphone to see additional information on the display: text, images, real, animated movies, etc. This is possible with Augmented Reality (AR).
One of the principles of AR is adding digital layers of data on real objects. AR allows simulating reality or a context different from the one in which the subject is physically located and to observe the context around it enriched by additional data. This is how it works: a camera identifies the object in the frame, the system recognizes it and activates a new communication level that overlaps digital data related to that object.
There are many possible applications of AR as part of location intelligence. AR is implemented in the industrial sector, improving productivity and assets management. Location-based AR is used in marketing and advertising via Digital Out of Home (DooH), mobile ads, or mobile apps. This is one of the most popular choices for high-budget campaigns in the entertainment, fashion, art, consumer goods, food & beverage, tourism, and hospitality industries.
11. 3D Stereo Analytics
Stereo sensors consist of high-resolution cameras to capture a three-dimensional image of objects. The tracking is highly accurate and enables monitoring high volume traffic, such as queue management or customer engagement.
3D Stereo sensors allow counting footfall and tracking people movement, analyzing the input, and providing accurate information about gender, age, visual attention, and visitors behavior. It is not that privacy-friendly; therefore is used mainly for surveillance and security reasons in airports, banks, and political events.
12. Thermal Imaging
Thermal imaging is a method that uses infrared radiation and thermal energy to gather information from objects and formulate images of them. It is based on the science of infrared energy, the “heat” that all objects emit. Since it does not rely on visible light, it is effective in the dark, smoke, fog, and haze.
At first, it was used for military purposes, for instance, in the Korean War. Since then, thermal imaging has been improved over the years to be applied for law enforcement, disaster relief management, or emergency management. In location intelligence, thermal imaging is used to accurately and precisely visualize density heat patterns. It is also used in healthcare to detect temperature abnormalities and in navigation, supporting night travels.
These are the most common location intelligence technologies. Their rapid development opens new opportunities for increasing the quality and quantity of collected data. Both, data quality and quantity, are extremely important to for in-depth analysis and data-driven decisions for business growth and success.