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Indoor Positioning Using BLE 4 / 5 Tags

BLE 4 / 5 tags are small Bluetooth hardware components ("beacons") that are used to locate people, objects or vehicles. BLE tags can not only be used in server-based procedures (asset tracking, position is determined on a server), but also in client-based applications (indoor navigation, position is calculated and visualized on a mobile device).

Bluetooth is the protocol of choice for implementing proximity solutions. Bluetooth Low Energy 4 (4.0 / 4.1 / 4.2) is a proven, particularly energy-efficient standard that paved the way for numerous RTLS and IoT solutions (beacon tracking, indoor navigation with beacons). The latest Bluetooth version, Bluetooth 5, achieves significant improvements in terms of signal range, bandwidth and data transfer speed compared to applications using Bluetooth 4. Thanks to Angle of Arrival (AoA) technology, the new 5.1 version of the Bluetooth specification enables applications for direction finding and centimeter-accurate (server-based) positioning. As a result, even assets stored close to each other can be clearly identified. When using Bluetooth 5.1, however, it should be noted that a reliable localization can only be achieved with an existing line-of-sight between beacon and receiver hardware. Thus, the application makes particular sense for tracking systems in open areas (e.g. industrial halls).

Functionality of BLE Tags

infsoft infographic: server-based positioning using BLE 4 and 5.1 tags
In server-based applications, the BLE tag attached to the asset being tracked sends Bluetooth signals to nearby infsoft Locator Nodes. With Bluetooth 5.1, in order to realize direction finding, the signals are first received by phased array antennas and then transmitted to a Locator Node connected via USB. The Locator Node processes the provided data and sends it via Wi-Fi or Ethernet to the infsoft LocAware platform®. Here, the position can be displayed on a map and movement statistics can be retrieved. The accuracy for a server-based procedure is less than 8 meters for BLE 4 tags (1-3 meters when using Locator Nodes AoA 1200) and about 0.5-1 meters for BLE 5.1 tags (with given line-of-sight). Bluetooth beacons have a range of up to 75 meters.

In client-based procedures, where the position data is to be displayed directly on a client (smartphone), the smartphone receives Bluetooth signals from BLE tags (beacons) installed in the building. A signal strength measurement is used for determining the position. If desired, the mobile device can also transmit the data to the infsoft LocAware platform®, where it is intelligently processed. Client-based procedures offer accuracies of 1-3 meters and a range of up to 30 meters.

Suppliers of BLE Tags (Bluetooth Beacons)

infsoft does not produce beacons itself, but will be happy to put you in touch with appropriate manufacturers. There are also some network suppliers who integrate Bluetooth into their solutions, such as Cisco. Here is a selection of some beacon hardware providers:

Use Cases for Indoor Localization With BLE Tags

There are multiple application scenarios for using BLE tags in RTLS solutions. Here are some examples:

A tracking solution facilitates the localization of tools in a workshop and enables a utilization analysis of work equipment.

Software solution used: Indoor Tracking, Geo-Based Services
Sensors used: Bluetooth Low Energy (beacons)
Example of use: Tracking of Tools in Automotive Workshops

At an airport, a tracking solution can help visualize and actively monitor asset locations, increasing passenger satisfaction while improving staff efficiency.

Software solution used: Indoor Tracking
Sensors used: Bluetooth Low Energy (beacons)
Example of use: Cart and Wheelchair Tracking at an Airport

In hospitals, a wayfinding app and a digital signage solution advance the quality of patient experiences and improve facility navigation.

Software solution used: Indoor Navigation
Sensors used: Bluetooth Low Energy (beacons)
Example of use: Indoor Navigation and Digital Signage in Hospitals

A real-time tracking and condition monitoring system makes it easy to maintain appropriate temperature conditions when storing pharmaceutical products.

Software solution used: Indoor Tracking, Geo-Based Services
Sensors used: Bluetooth Low Energy (beacons), Temperature Sensor
Example of use: Monitoring of Environmental Conditions in Pharmaceutical Storage

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