As Jeremy Cowan, IoT Now’s editorial director, hears from Thomas Hasselman, chief marketing officer of Finland-based Quuppa, BLE is finding a home for asset tracking in hospitals, offices, the army and via mobile network operator, Orange. Also see Part 1.
IoT Now: Can you tell us about the deployments?
TH: We have large office buildings, soldier training sites over several thousand square metres in 400 large buildings and tracking thousands of objects. So, then you just look at price points and cost of ownership of the system. That’s where a difference comes from. BLE is a key factor in IoT radio technology. The pricing of tags is in the $5.00 (€4.3) or less range, and the overall system becomes very manageable because BLE is also low power consuming technology, so you don’t spend money on changing or recharging batteries.
IoT Now: What’s the typical battery lifespan?
TH: With the latest BLE chipsets it’s typically about 3-5 years with a small coin battery.
IoT Now: How does the pricing compare to UWB?
TH: One of the big differentiators is the tags, they’re significantly cheaper. Some of our resellers, who used to be UWB resellers, say the price of a deployment is about a third of UWB. We haven’t confirmed that yet but that’s what they say.
Ubisense became a partner a few months ago. Even though they’re the leading UWB technology provider in the world they see that, in order to compete in the manufacturing space, they need alternative technologies. BLE is something their partners have been asking for. They see a need to be able to track smartphones and devices.
One factor is accuracy, for example car manufacturers track items going beyond the production line and out of assembly into the Just-in-Time delivery chain.
Also scalability; locators are deployable in several thousand square metres of buildings. Fortum, Finland’s biggest energy company don’t want to change their ID card printing process. They wanted BLE tracking (of personnel) in the ID holder itself.
They use it for optimising meeting room utilisation; they have open office space for finding free seating when you arrive on the office floor. You can see if meeting rooms are in use.
One of the benefits of Quuppa’s infrastructure is remote monitoring of BLE sensors, for example in offices if something’s running out or needs emptying, if a room is too hot or cold or a door is left open.
Healthcare is a key sector benefiting from accurate positioning. If a nurse with a tag enters a room and the rules say a handwash is needed before going to the next patient. With geofencing you can see if the nurse enters a sanitation station and he or she can be alerted to the possibility of cross-contamination. In some hospitals it’s via a vibrating wristband so that it doesn’t alarm the patient, others use a visible aid like a blinking light to alert the nurse.
Our technology enables the back channel. The back channel is a 2-way communications system. Our positioning engine doesn’t only receive positioning info, it can also send commands back to tags (and wristbands). It uses the same comms channel.
Another typical use is in inventory, for example of crash carts with critical drugs. It’s vital if nurses have inventory of where the cart is, what’s missing, or drugs out of date on the cart. This isn’t yet widely deployed in healthcare. Our flagship reference case is Nicholas Children’s Hospital in Miami (the third largest such hospital in the US) where it’s used over 1.7 million square feet. We started in 2016 and it was fully deployed in 2018. It also shows which beds have been changed or need cleaning.
We have smaller deployments at an Alzheimer care home in Italy tracking patients to ensure they don’t leave the home, and at mental health institutions in China for staff safety to alert if they’re attacked.
IoT Now: How have you been working with Orange?
TH: Orange is like many of our other partners, but bigger. They’re using our technology and building their own software on our APIs (application program interfaces) for their live events, logistics and manufacturing and also for healthcare. They chose us for two reasons, for the accuracy of the BLE technology itself, and the other thing they like is they are building their own ecosystem. Already, four of our tag partners will be working with them and are testing now.
IoT Now’s editorial director & publisher, Jeremy Cowan was talking to Thomas Hasselman, CMO of Quuppa.