At around 20,000 km above the Earth’s surface there are now at least 55 satellites in orbit, forming two Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS); GPS (also known as Navstar, and owned and operated by the US) and GLONASS (owned and operated by Russia). These will soon be joined by the European Union’s system, Galileo, which will have a total of 30 satellites and should reach full operational capability in 2019. China is also in the process of deploying its own satellite constellation for navigation; BeiDou, which is expected to have 35 satellites when fully operational.
When all four independent GNSSs are operational, there will be over 100 satellites in orbit, meaning precise positioning data will be incredibly simple and affordable to acquire in the near future. Even today, with just two networks, navigation systems in our cars and on our smart phones have become essential parts of modern life.
Similarly, cellular networks are now operational across the entire developed world and thanks to their nature they too are able to provide connected devices with basic location data based, on the cell they are communicating with. Crucially, they also provide a two-way communications channel, enabling a host of other valuable services. Together these two technologies make geolocating much more accessible, allowing it to be integrated into many more devices. So what else could benefit from accurate location data?
Simply knowing where something is has limited use, of course, if that information isn’t put to good use. This highlights an exciting and relatively new use-case for positioning data. By putting a cellular transceiver in to an ‘asset’ it provides a way of connecting that asset to the internet, making it possible to track that asset anywhere in the world. The technology behind this application space is improving all the time; the cost, size and power of transceiver technology has now reached a level that allows them to be embedded into devices small enough to be carried around unobtrusively. Tracking vulnerable people is an emerging application for this technology and advances in integration mean it is possible to attach a transceiver to almost anything and know with great precision where that transceiver is at any time.
A recent example of this comes from Korean company KIWI PLUS. It has developed a Smart Watch developed specifically for children, that can relay location data of the wearer back to a parent or guardian using a cellular connection. The company set out to develop a wearable product that could combine accurate tracking with reliable connectivity. The result was the LINE Kids Watch, which will be distributed by KT Corporation. It features GNSS and Cellular communication modules from u-blox, embedded in the Smart Watch and is a great example of how u-blox is able to support new applications in this emerging market.
Figure 1: LINE Kids Watch is a tiny and colourful Android-based smartwatch.
Another example is the Kids Guard 3S from one of China’s leading mobile security solution providers, Qihoo 360. This is also a Smart Watch for kids, providing positioning data to within 5m outdoors and 20m indoors, and integrates voice communication and other fun features intended to keep kids interested in wearing it.
Figure 2: Kids Guard 3S is designed to monitor the whereabouts of children.
These are great examples of how technology can help protect vulnerable people, including children, in everyday scenarios. But what if it’s your hobby or lifestyle that makes you vulnerable, particularly when that takes you beyond the boundaries of normal society and into remote locations?
Whearable Technologies is about to launch the RiskBand, a live-monitored personal safety device that can connect to practically any cellular network in the world and provide accurate location data to emergency services, at the touch of button. Designed for the more ‘adventurous’ explorer, the RiskBand could prove essential for people engaging in extreme sports, or for professional business people who must travel to areas that may make them more vulnerable to attack. It ensures the wearer is almost guaranteed to be found in the case of an emergency, wherever they may be in the world.
Figure 3: In addition to enabling the streaming of audio and photos, the RiskBand allows wearers to summon help in an emergency.
All of these devices share a common platform; they use technology developed by u-blox. The SARA-U2 series of cellular modules includes the SARA-U201 as used in the RiskBand, which provides global coverage using HSPA/GSM networks. The same family includes the SARA-U270 for Europe and Asia coverage, as used in the LINE Kids Watch from KIWI PLUS. These modules have been optimised for easy design-in and are now so small and low-power that they can be used to add cellular connectivity to almost anything.
And it doesn’t stop there, the LINE Kids Watch and the Kids Guard 3S devices feature the u-blox GNSS engine for GPS/QZSS and GLONASS systems; a more specialist module targeting high-volume applications.
These highly integrated modules are increasingly being specified by OEMs to bring geolocating to mass market devices. It seems that tracking your precious assets really is now child’s play!