Equipment tracking through integrated, open services

By Torbjørn Øvrebekk September 13, 2016


Tracking equipment in a large facility is a difficult task. Checking inventory for things such as location, condition and battery life can be very time-consuming. In this article we look at a few ways to make this process smarter, simpler and quicker.

Simple tracking using beacons 

The simplest method of equipment tracking is to use low energy beacons. These low-powered beacons simply transmit an ID periodically - anywhere from every few milliseconds to every few seconds. Detectors picking up the signal, and its strength, can then pinpoint a precise location. 

Detectors can be implemented as specific devices or as an additional function of, for example, routers. Cisco are now including Bluetooth® low energy in all of their enterprise routers. This allows easy integration of beacons with servers and cloud services. 

From the data they provide you can work out not only where a piece of equipment is but in some cases whether it is in use. Take, for example, a vacuum cleaner. If the location is static, then it is not being used. If the location is constantly changing, then you know it is being used. Alternatively, a sensor could simply record the number of hours the machine has been switched on, depending on the use case.

Beacons can run for many months or even years on a single battery and are very useful when power usage is an important consideration, for example with mobile equipment running on batteries. 

> Reas also: The importance of average power consumption to battery life

Making tracking even smarter 

Simple beacons can tell us only a small amount of information. Integrating Bluetooth low energy into products can tell us much more about how products are used and what state they’re in. This is useful for products that either connect to mains power or have large enough batteries that the addition of Bluetooth low energy doesn’t affect performance. 

It’s easy to see how this technology can add real value for customers. An app which analyses data from connected devices can help in many ways.

Using physical web technology such as Google's EddyStone, the beacon can broadcast a URL to let the user check its status on their mobile device without even needing a specific app.

Simplify maintenance procedures 

A hospital may have hundreds of portable devices running on replaceable batteries. Using data from the beacon about when the device is being used we can also work out when, for example, batteries will need to be replaced.

Rechargeable devices could alert users when the batteries are running low so there is no break in service because someone forgot to charge itA heart monitor could report when it is running out of paper saving time when someone comes to use itA vacuum cleaner could report when it is full, or if it needs a new filter. All of this can help facilities manage their inventory more efficiently, saving time and money. 

Analyze usage 

Over time, usage patterns can change and staff don’t always inform people if this has reached a critical point. If a business reaches a point where all of their cleaning machines are in constant use, a simple app could advise them that they need to buy more.

On the other hand, if they have two machines and one is in constant use and the other is rarely used it can let them know to either switch the machines over to prolong life or, when one comes to the end of its life, they can function just fine without buying a replacement. 

Adding these features to your products now could help differentiate from your competitors and give you a cutting edge in the marketplace. 

Read also: Internet of Things: Beyond the hype

Make life better for consumers 

It’s not just large facilities with thousands of assets that can benefit from equipment tracking. Attaching a Bluetooth low energy powered beacon to a set of keys or a wallet can bring great benefits to consumers. Not only can they find their keys if they’re lost, they can also receive a warning if they go ‘out of range’ alerting the user that they may have dropped their wallet, or that their bag has been stolen, before too much time passes to sort it out. 

Users can buy beacons to attach to anything they want to track. A beacon attached to a pet dog could alert the user if the dog escapes from the back garden or help track it down if it runs away in the park. 

Some companies are working on replacing a wallet full of cards with a single ‘smartcard’. Using an app, the user can input all of their payment cards, loyalty cards, fuel cards etc and using Bluetooth, the card can program the magnetic strip or EMV chip to act as whichever card they need at the time of use. 

Beat the competition 

Using Bluetooth low energy powered beacons to track equipment and products can bring many benefits both to businesses and consumers alike.

With almost endless possibilities, it’s down to you to think of ways to make your products smarter than the competition.


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Topics: beacons

Torbjørn Øvrebekk's photo

By: Torbjørn Øvrebekk

Torbjørn Øvrebekk is a senior application engineer in Nordic Semiconductor, and has worked for the company since he graduated with a Masters degree in Electronics at NTNU in 2008. Torbjørn has worked mainly with customer support, assisting customers with issues related to embedded software development and RF protocols. He has also worked closely with the Nordic sales group, providing technical assistance in the field, attending trade shows and doing technical presentations at conferences and events.



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