We want information, and we want it now! Thanks to smartphones, wearables, computers, always-on internet connections and now the Internet of Things (IoT), most of us have come to expect real-time information at our fingertips in an instant.

When will my train arrive? Where has the parcel I’ve ordered got to? What’s the weather like in New York today? There’s traffic on my regular route, how can I avoid it?

These are all things we can do today, but there are lots of areas in our personal and professional lives where the information we have access to and the way we work with it seems archaic.

But thanks to some of the latest telemetry and communications technology, which enables us to record and transmit up-to-date information from remote locations to a central hub and beyond, we’re seeing some exciting new ways to make our lives easier and safer.

Cutting-edge projects in this area have been popping up a lot lately, and we’ve picked three below to show you the art of the possible. All of these use u-blox modules and components.

Smart energy meters

Despite living in such a well-connected world, the way many of us report our electricity and natural gas usage hasn’t changed for decades. Once a quarter, we go to our meter cupboard, note down a reading and send it to our supplier.

This is archaic, and smart meters promise to change it by taking regular readings and automatically sending data to the supplier. This promises to eliminate the cost of manual readings and estimated bills, and paves the way for more flexible tariffs. But there are challenges when it comes to realising smart energy meters, most importantly: how do you safely combine electronics with an explosive substance such as natural gas?

u-blox have been working on a smart gas meter that does just this.

The meter contains a very small and low-power communications component that sends readings via the local GSM/GPRS cellular network. For the safety and peace of mind of anyone using this meter, the GSM/GPRS module in it is ATEX-certified and manufactured in ISO/TS 16949-certified production sites.

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Figure 1: Smart meters are being equipped with communication modules.

Live asset tracking and management

In any business where you have lots of moving assets, knowing where each item is at a given time can be hugely valuable. For example, in large-scale manufacturing, knowing exactly where a particular part is can save significant time and money. In logistics and transportation, understanding where every vehicle is enables you to plan your services and provide up-to-date information to staff and customers.

Accenture and u-blox demoed a live asset tracking system at this year’s Farnborough Airshow. Using location-tracking and communication chips, the system enabled users to pinpoint the location of the VIP courtesy cars and buggies.

By knowing where each vehicle was at any time, organisers could ensure they always summoned the nearest one and were able to monitor vehicles to make sure they didn’t enter pedestrian-only areas or go beyond set boundaries. Moreover, the tracking data they collected helped them understand overall usage patterns, vehicle downtime and distances travelled. Anyone using this technology will be able to use these insights to plan services at future events more effectively.

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Figure 2: The Farnborough International Airshow combines a major trade exhibition for the aerospace and defence industries with a public airshow. 

Personal safety devices

Employee safety is a major concern for any employer, particularly when parts of your workforce operate alone in isolated locations. In an emergency, you need an easy and reliable way of finding where the person is and communicating with them, so you can understand their situation and get help to them as quickly as possible.

We were really excited to see the launch of an advanced new personal safety device, using u-blox location tracking and communications modules. The location-tracker component can simultaneously work with a range of global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), including GPS, QZSS, GLONASS and BeiDou, thereby making it highly versatile. Equally importantly, its low power use and small form factor are essential for this kind of discreet, portable system.

The communication component works over 2G, 3G and 4G and even facilitates one- and two-way voice communication, meaning it’s possible to speak directly to a remote worker following an SOS call.

Future possibilities

These are just three examples of how cutting-edge wireless communication and positioning technologies are making a real difference to the way we all work and live. And with our ever-growing expectation that every electronic device will be connected to others, the technology that makes it possible is going to be in high demand.

More information on the u-blox wireless and positioning solutions distributed by Alpha Micro Components can be found here.