Among the exhibitors at the 2012 Future of Wireless (report, July issue) was Omnisense, a Cambridge-based developer whose wireless geolocation system works without the need to install any fixed infrastructure. It was operating live in the hall over 2·4 GHz radio.
“We’ve got a wireless sensor networking technology here in which the sensors are able to calculate their positions relative to one another”, explained Andy Thurman, pictured here. “This is different to the approach adopted by other real-time locating system providers in that we have a completely flat architecture of devices here, each of which is exchanging measurement range, signal strength and certain other telemetry data.”
They can do this, he continued, without the need for the traditional (expensive) fixed receiver which has to be cabled into place before you can begin locating your devices. “You can see I’ve got a live demonstration running in front of me here. It’s about a 1–2 metre accuracy system. We have a cluster of nodes around here and I’ve got a couple that I have Blu-tacked to the wall over there. So if we were to walk one, you would see in real time, one moving to another.”
The devices on display were a family of compact modules housed in plastic enclosures, including a lightweight locating unit similar to a key-fob, two types of network node and a gateway to connect to the user’s PC application. “Obviously, cost is driven by the volume in which you manufacture”, Mr Thurman said. “But we believe that because it’s got this ease of installation, it really can undercut the other real-time locating technologies in terms of return on investment.”
Already the technology has found applications as diverse as social care, industrial safety and security, and even livestock management (in the open air, it can hop over distances of 200 metres). One installation which the company has been testing is at a large transport depot. “This is where they load and unload trucks and trailers”, Mr Thurman explained. “They’ve got this Achilles heel in a very efficient operation: when the trucks arrive back on site, they just don’t know where they are. They walk around with clipboards trying to register where everyone is. And so they’ve got trials running now and they are showing the capability to get this high level of accuracy as you go through a day.”
In the livestock application, he said, a dairy farmer is using movement sensors to identify the onset of oestrus in his cows. “The detection of oestrus and management of well-being is a very sophisticated industry now. If you miss one cycle, then you have to feed and house your cow another 20 days. That justifies the cost of the device from one cycle to the next.”
Typical Omnisense networks at present extend up to 40 sensors, but in the dairy industry trials from next month the system will be able to support thousands of devices in a single network.