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What is a Real-Time Location System?

STILT PRO Real-Time Location System Architecture
What is a Real-Time Location System?

A real-time location system, or RTLS, tracks an asset in near real time and provides continues updates to the location of the vehicle, tractor, sprayer, gator, side by side, ATV, forklift, truck, or whatever custom piece of equipment you may have at your operation.  With this information, you can start to understand the productivity of your entire operation, make changes and use data to see the changes to your operations efficiency

What is Asset Tracking?

Asset tracking is a general term used to describe the tracking of assets and it includes real-time location systems.  Assets can refer to vehicles, tractors, trailers, equipment, machines.  Typically anything that can move or be moved.  When investigating asset tracking, it is important to ask about the frequency that the device provides the location.  A battery powered asset tracker may only be able to send out a location a few times a day in order to maintain sufficient battery life.  Other tracking options may store location information until it is downloaded by the user.  The simplest of asset tracking can even refer to a passive identifier like a serial number or a barcode and a person that scans or makes note at a predetermined location.

What Technologies Are Used For Asset Tracking?

There are two main systems used in asset tracking, they are broken into two parts: a method to locate an asset and the transfer of the location information to the user.

Location / Positioning

This is a simplified list applying to technologies appropriate for wholesale plant nurseries

GPS is a standalone system that can be used to report an asset location.

Barcode Scanning can be used to manually identify an asset and then use the known system information to determine actual location.

RFID and Bluetooth can be used to determine when you are close to the asset.

Radio Frequency Characteristics can be used to determine the distance between an asset and a receiving device.  Some specific methods are Trilateration, Triangulation, or Fingerprinting.

Transfer

There are also multiple technologies appropriate for  wholesale plant nurseries to transfer location information from an asset.  It can be confusing with all the terms acronyms surrounding Internet of Things.

Cellular transfer requires no onsite private gateway.  Carriers offer data only plans that can allow transferring data.  Medium levels of data can be transferred.

WiFi has a medium range with distances up to ~500ft.  WiFi requires the installation of a gateway, though this is readily available off the shelf.  A primary advantage is that WiFi can handle a lot transmission data and billing is typically by transmission speed, not total usage.  This makes it suitable for security cameras, computers and other advanced systems.

Bluetooth or Bluetooth Low Energy and NFC are close range technologies, They use low power and very common in consumer electronics.

LPWAN – Low Power Wide Area Network encompasses many different methods and options.  Some common and applicable ones are LoraWAN, NB-IoT, Sigfox, LTE-m.  

LPWAN relies on one of three different gateway types – Cellular Carrier gateway (Public) or LPWAN Carrier Gateway (Public or Private). 

What makes LPWAN technology fit so well with Wholesale Nurseries?

LPWAN technologies, specifically LoraWAN or LTE-M is especially useful for Wholesale nurseries.  The primary reason is that LPWAN technology offers the range required to encompass an entire nursery and since these systems transfer small amounts of information, they come with a comparably lower price tag.

What is a Gateway?

A gateway is a device that receives information from many different assets and transfers this information to the appropriate destination.  It is literally a gateway between network systems.  Another common name for a gateway is a “Hub”.  All transfer of information requires a gateway at some point in time.  The difference to note is who manages / owns the gateways.

Any cellular tower that your phone connects to is a gateway managed by a specific carrier.  A WiFi Router / Gateway is another example of a gateway but it is managed by your business and not publicly available.

What other information can be shared?

The unique thing about these systems is that they can be used to share other information besides location.  Assets can provide uptime, hour meters, temperatures, environmental conditions, count containers, understand duty cycles of equipment and even predict when maintenance is required.  This technology can also be used to eliminate manual or paper entry by providing a connection between the asset and your record keeping system or database.

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