This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project seeks to implement a software-defined radio digital receiver design for use in Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS) employing Near Field Electromagnetic Ranging (NFER) technology. NFER RTLS has demonstrated industry leading wireless location of individual tracking tags. The proposed effort will drastically increase the capacity of NFER RTLS from 20-50 tag reads per second to a thousand or more. RTLS's comprise an important and rapidly growing segment within the radio frequency identification (RFID) industry. Incumbent RTLS vendors use high frequency, microwave RF systems originally optimized for communications, not location. But communications and location are two different problems requiring fundamentally different answers. NFER technology was designed with location in mind. Using low frequency (~1MHz), long wavelength (~300m) signals, typically around 1MHz, NFER systems are more penetrating, longer range, more multipath resistant, and more robust than competing products. Already a relatively simple and low-cost method for RTLS in complicated indoor environments, the proposed research aims to dramatically increase the capacity of NFER RTLS systems by implementing a software-defined radio digital receiver design. The proposed effort also has the potential to significantly reduce the cost and increase the capacity of NFER Locator-Receivers. The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is substantial. The Global Positioning System (GPS) enabled a multi-billion industry by making location information ubiquitous for outdoor users. Most of us, however, spend our time indoors where GPS is unavailable. An RTLS technology that can unlock the "indoor GPS" market would likely represent a market opportunity at least as significant as the overall GPS industry. In addition to this substantial commercial opportunity, location awareness has a broad societal impact. Approximately 100 firefighters die in the line of duty each year. A system that can locate and track firefighters could save some of these lives. Every year, workers die in hazardous environments, like mines and chemical plants because rescuers are unable to locate them. Similarly, about 10% of American casualties in combat are caused by "friendly" fire. A system that can provide situational awareness to warfighters, particularly in urban combat, could prevent some of these casualties. The proposed high capacity digital receiver would also have significant utility as the basis of a robust communication system. There is considerable interest in near-field magnetic communication systems in support of tactical communications in urban environment or in support of communication in mines and underground.

Project Report

GPS has revolutionized outdoor location, opening a multi-billion dollar industry. However people spend far more time indoors than out. The need for indoor location awareness is correspondingly greater. Indoor location technology has been limited by the challenging indoor radio wave propagation environment. Q-Track’s innovative Near Field Electromagnetic Ranging (NFER®) Real-Time Locating Systems (RTLS) have demonstrated the ability to cope with difficult indoor location problems, yet is limited by the low number of tags that can be tracked This Small Business Innovation Research Phase I project examined the feasibility of a software-defined radio digital receiver design for use in NFER RTLS. We completed a breadboard system that demonstrated the feasibility of increasing the capacity of NFER RTLS from 16 tag reads per second to hundreds or more. This dramatic increase in capacity promises to bring location awareness indoors saving not only money, but also lives. Intellectual Merits: RTLSs comprise an important and rapidly growing segment within the radio frequency identification (RFID) industry. Incumbent RTLS vendors use high frequency, microwave RF systems originally optimized for communications, not location. But communications and location are two different problems requiring fundamentally different solutions. Q-Track designed Near-Field Electromagnetic Ranging (NFER) technology with location in mind. Using low frequency (~1MHz), long wavelength (~300m) signals, NFER systems are more penetrating, longer range, more multipath resistant, and more robust than competing products. Already a relatively simple and low-cost method for RTLS in complicated indoor environments, this effort aimed to dramatically increase the capacity of NFER RTLS systems by implementing a software-defined radio digital receiver design. The proposed effort also aimed to significantly reduce the cost and increase the capacity of Q-Track’s Locator-Receivers. Our Phase I effort achieved a major breakthrough. A breadboard, proof-of-concept system demonstrated the capability of a digital receiver to enable NFER RTLS to track hundreds of tags simultaneously. Broader Impacts: Q-Track’s initial product is a Dosimulation radiation worker training system that combines real-world location data with a virtual radiation environment for unprecedented realism in training. Southern Company purchased and piloted a NFER system for the training facility at their Plant Vogtle nuclear plant. A higher capacity, higher update rate NFER system will support a wide variety of worker safety applications throughout the nuclear, chemical, and mining industries. Every year, workers die in hazardous environments, like mines and chemical plants because rescuers are unable to locate them. Location awareness has a broad societal impact beyond these markets. Approximately 100 firefighters die in the line of duty each year and thousands are injured. A system that can locate and track firefighters could save some of these lives. Similarly, about 10% of American casualties in combat are caused by "friendly" fire. A system that can provide situational awareness to warfighters, particularly in urban combat, could prevent some of these casualties. Location awareness is also of interest in support of just-in-time logistics as well as in location-based consumer services and applications. The proposed high capacity digital receiver would have significant utility as the basis of a robust communication system. There is considerable interest in near-field magnetic communication systems in support of first responder communications in urban environments or in support of communication in mines and underground. Integration of Research and Education: Three of Q-Track’s ten pending patents have an NSF-funded student intern as a co-inventor. One of Q-Track’s NSF-funded students is now pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Stanford under an NSF Fellowship. Four of Q-Track’s seventeen employees began work at Q-Track under NSF-funded student or teacher internships. Q-Track is strongly committed to providing real-world, practical experience to talented students, furthering their education and professional development as part of our research efforts.

Agency
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Institute
Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP)
Type
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
1013303
Program Officer
Juan E. Figueroa
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
2010-07-01
Budget End
2011-06-30
Support Year
Fiscal Year
2010
Total Cost
$180,000
Indirect Cost
Name
Q-Track Corporation
Department
Type
DUNS #
City
Huntsville
State
AL
Country
United States
Zip Code
35816