Aeroscout’s Gabi Daniely: A new breed of asset tracking has been introduced to the market – Wi-Fi-based Active RFID.Denmark’s Legoland is one of Europe’s largest and most popular theme parks, covering 2.5 million square feet and visited by over 1.6 million people each year.
That adds up to a lot of kids getting lost.
Every season, the park deals with approximately 1,600 cases of temporarily missing children. With staff assigned to scour the park for the misplaced park-goers, Legoland estimates it cost them around an hour of staff time per missing child, costs that added up. Then they started using the Kidspotter – an Israeli-developed technology which provides a more streamlined and cost-effective solution, that not only saves Legoland undo cost and frustration, but also eliminates parents’ and children’s stress levels.
The Kidspotter is the brainchild of AeroScout, a leading company dealing in Active RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tracking technology. As visitors enter the park, they pass by a kiosk where they can rent a small, light battery-powered Active RFID tracking device (tag) encased in a rugged, waterproof wristband, for their child. The tag sends out a signal that is received by standard wireless (Wi-Fi) access points, with which the park is rigged.
Parents leave their cellular phone number with the attendant, and receive a map showing a numbered grid of the park. At any point during the day, if the parents lose sight of their child, they send out a standard text message (SMS) to park headquarters. The AeroScout system uses the Wi-Fi network points as RFID readers, which (based on signal strength and/or time of arrival algorithms) triangulate the location of the tag to within 10 feet.
Within seconds the Kidspotter server, based on AeroScout’s standard real-time location system (RTLS) software ‘MobileView’, which maps the data, sends an SMS back to the parents with the child’s coordinates, which correspond to the map. Parents never need to contact a park attendant.
The system has reduced the missing child syndrome drastically with not one (tagged) child going astray at Legoland. Not only that, but the system created a new source of revenue for the park, in the form of tag rentals. Kidspotter also provides valuable data about visitors’ movements throughout the park; and in the future, the park can utilize the wireless location system for new ventures, such as interactive games.
Last December, AeroScout installed a similar system, dubbed ‘i-Safety’ in Yokohama City, Japan to track a group of children in a 1.2-by-1.6-mile radius surrounding their school. Their tags, which also utilize existing Cisco Wi-Fi access points used by the city for wireless Internet access, were put in place to ensure the kids got to and from school safely, and were modified to include emergency call buttons. Other AeroScout adaptions include engineered tamper-proof tags to track the location of inmates and officers in a prison in Europe, and miner safety tags. Embedded in the cap lamp apparatus, the tag tracks their positioning, allowing them to be located in real time without increasing their equipment load.
According to AeroScout Vice President for Marketing and Product Strategy, Gabi Daniely, the easiest way to understand how the system works is in comparison to its sister technology, Passive RFID. We have all come across Passive RFID tags: the large, bulky plastic tags attached to the labels of expensive clothing items in retail stores, so that when it is passed before a sensor in the store’s doorway, it will beep to alert staff of shoplifting. Passive RFID is defined as such because the tags do not possess their own power source; instead, they must be placed in short range of a reader in order to be ‘excited.’ Until a few years ago, this was the best technology available for asset tracking.
“A new breed has been introduced to the market – Wi-Fi-based Active RFID,” Daniely told ISRAEL21c.
Unlike Passive RFID, Active RFID tags do not require an external power source or signal trigger, like the retail store sensor, in order to transmit waves. Instead, the tag, which has its own battery, sends out a tiny wireless signal at a regular interval, which is constantly picked up by a standard Wi-Fi network. So, the technology enables real-time tracking at a much greater range.
The sky is quite literally the limit. However, people-tracking – of the sort in use in Europe and Japan – represents the more peripheral applications of AeroScout’s technology. The vast majority of the company’s Active RFID solutions are developed to enable companies in the healthcare, manufacturing, and logistics industries to locate valuable assets, and use that location information to improve business processes. According to Daniely, the healthcare and manufacturing industries each account for 30-40% of AeroScout’s total revenues.
More than 25 of the world’s leading hospitals use AeroScout’s Active RFID tags to track their moveable assets: from medical devices such as infusion pumps, portable x-ray machines and patient monitoring devices, to wheelchairs, stretchers, and gurneys.
“Large hospitals lose hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment each year,” says Daniely, who explains that theft of equipment is more widespread than one might imagine.
Even the temporary loss of equipment can waste lots of hospital personnel time, as nurses sacrifice time with patients to seek equipment they need. “The ability to find assets instantaneously and improve their flow through hospital processes saves staff time,” says Daniely.
In addition to tracking the location of assets, AeroScout tags can be programmed to transfer information about the tagged device. “The tags can monitor particular specifications, such as the equipment’s maintenance schedule,” explains Daniely, adding that this saves tons of time over the trial-and-error system of maintenance.
“The tags can increase asset utilization,” he says. “Many high-value assets go underutilized while hospitals continue to overspend on new and rental assets, and maintenance staff loses productive hours searching for specific items that need maintenance.”
The tags are also useful to track hospital patients and staff. This can be especially important for patients in critical-care situations; those recovering from cardiac surgery particularly benefit from constant location tracking, as it enables rapid medical assistance if the patient’s condition abruptly deteriorates. Location of medical staff is also important, both in emergencies in which a physician must be summoned, as well as in cases in which staff themselves need help.
There is some controversy surrounding the tracking of people, particularly in the US, admits Daniely, “The tracking of people is not penetrating in the US, since in the US people seem to be much more sensitive to it,” he says. “A full system has never been installed in a hospital just to track people.”
The bottom line: According to preliminary estimates, Daniely says AeroScout can save the average mid-sized to large hospital around $500,000 to $800,000 per year.
The best part is that most hospitals, like most other industries, are already using Wi-Fi networks for VOIP (Voice-Over-Internet Protocol) to speak to one another, as opposed to using a cellular network. So, AeroScout tags fit into an existing infrastructure.
“Before Wi-Fi, if I had a 10-floor hospital and I wanted to know, at any given time, how many wheelchairs I have on the third floor, and whether an Alzheimer’s patient has left his room, I would have had to install a whole network of RFID-dedicated readers, and even then, I would still have location-specific limitations,” explains Daniely. “The advent of Wi-Fi has changed all that. Most industries use Wi-Fi networks, either for VOIP or data transfer, and now they have an additional reason: location. That’s where we come in.AeroScout’s main strength is that its solutions are Wi-Fi-based.”
AeroScout was founded in 1999 by Yuval Bar-Gil as Bluesoft Inc., to develop innovative positioning solutions for the Wi-Fi wireless LAN and Bluetooth markets. “But quite early in the game, we realized first off, that Bluetooth was not developing the way analysts expected it would; and secondly, that Wi-Fi was not just hype,” says Daniely that they re-branded as AeroScout in June, 2004, alongside the release of the MobileView software, introducing the industry’s first Wi-Fi-based Active RFID tag. “We literally pioneered this market,” says Daniely.
With strategic and financial investors including Cisco Systems (the main Wi-Fi provider, which owns about 65% of the market), Intel Capital, Star Ventures, and Comverse Ventures, and over 150 customers around the world, including Boeing, American Port Services, and Scandinavian auto distributor Holmgrens Bil, AeroScout continues to lead the Active RFID market, with the most-sold T2 Tag.
All of AeroScout’s engineering, product management, R&D, as well as its tag manufacturing plant, and the majority of the company’s 80 employees, are located in their Rehovot offices. They also have offices in Wiefelstede (Germany), Tokyo, and San Mateo, California.
According to Daniely, AeroScout offers the only Active RFID tag with both indoor and outdoor capabilities; it’s the most feature-rich tag, with extensive data transfer capabilities; and it’s got the longest battery life on the market – four to eight years. The AeroScout Visibility System is the only Wi-Fi platform able to provide multiple types of location, including RTLS, Active RFID and telemetry, within a single infrastructure.
“We’re a real one-stop-shop,” says Daniely.