In January 2019, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (Bluetooth SIG)—the trade association that oversees the development of Bluetooth® standards and the licensing of the Bluetooth technologies and trademarks—announced a new direction finding feature as part of version 5.1 of the Bluetooth Core Specification.
By including this new feature, the Bluetooth SIG says Bluetooth proximity solutions are extended by adding direction capability, resulting in the possibility of building Bluetooth positioning systems with improved accuracy. In other words, the RSSI-based proximity location enabled by Bluetooth via “beacons” will be taken to the next level by opening up the core components for enabling angular estimation over Bluetooth technology.
Quuppa applauds the announcement of the new direction finding feature, as it validates our work over the past 15 years. We started to work on both advanced angular and location algorithms, as well as antenna array modeling, using proprietary low-level I/Q signals, in 2004.
In 2010, we actively participated in the early phases of the Bluetooth SIG standardization process by contributing the first draft of the specifications and a reference implementation system while still at Nokia. After Quuppa was established in 2012, we moved from early-stage prototype systems and began heavily investing in creating the first complete product-level angular-based location platform based on standard Bluetooth radios. Quuppa utilizes off-the-shelf Bluetooth radio chips and, by leveraging hooks and low-level API, we built Quuppa’s advanced location profiles.
The new Bluetooth direction finding feature itself does not provide a location system solution. It defines the basis on how the radio signal (via communication protocols, packet structures, and data sampling schemes) needs to be transmitted and received between devices, some of which may also exploit an antenna array, i.e., an antenna formed by multiple physically separated elements. One of the key elements in the direction finding feature is in the specification of the I/Q signal. Making such data part of any new Bluetooth radio chip API enables the possibility of carrying out radio direction finding. This applies for both the AoA (Angle-of-Arrival) or AoD (Angle-of-Departure) methods. In some ways, this was the starting point for Quuppa in 2004.
Quuppa has been a member of the Bluetooth SIG since its establishment. Today, Quuppa is excited to work closely with the Bluetooth SIG educating the market about new Bluetooth Location Services opportunities, by providing case studies and market feedback that prove the angular-based Bluetooth technology works—and works well—for location.
What the Specification Does
The Bluetooth SIG’s new direction finding feature provides a basic framework around the requirements of the sending of signals over Bluetooth. As part of this, it includes brief descriptions of two methodologies for radio direction finding. Here are the descriptions of two possible location system architectures, converting from angular direction estimation to positioning:
Angle of Arrival (AoA)
AoA features a network-centric architecture where anything that has a Bluetooth transmitter (phone or tag) is trackable by its position. A Bluetooth device can make its location available to the location service application by transmitting direction finding-enabled packets using a single antenna. The radio signal is then received by a multi-antenna device known as the Locator, the enabler of the angular estimation. Finally, the data is sent to a server running the Positioning Engine, which computes the location information. Because the intelligence is in the network, it’s suitable for most business-to-business (B2B) applications such as asset tracking for industrial environments. In a network-centric solution, also the power consumption is in the network. This means that the tags are using low power with very long battery life (years), which is crucial for asset tracking solution’s total cost of ownership (TCO).
Angle of Departure (AoD)
AoD features a mobile-centric architecture, where the intelligence is in the device, for example, a mobile phone. The device has a single antenna and it directly runs the Positioning Engine. The device receives the radio signal transmitted by a multi-antenna device, the Locator. The AoD-based architecture is more suitable for consumer applications (B2C) and it carries major advantages related to system capacity and data privacy. Respectively, in mobile centric systems also the power consumption is on the device side (e.g. phones that are regularly charged), and the Locators are low power devices (similar to tags in AoA systems) and can be battery powered with a very long battery life.
Note that the Locator is the enabler for both AoA- and AoD-based Location Services. Furthermore, such system architectures can be provided together, enabling the joint running of B2B and B2C Bluetooth Location Services simultaneously.
The 5.1 specification places a heavy emphasis on defining the radio interface but anything that is related to the location system architecture is outside the Bluetooth SIG standard and is vendor-specific. The Quuppa Intelligent Locating System™ can be seen as a vendor-specific implementation over the Bluetooth SIG standard.
What Quuppa Adds on Top of the Standard
With its Quuppa Intelligent Locating System, Quuppa has built a standards-compliant solution that also defines:
- How to compute the location accuracy down to 10cm while having latency down to 100ms
- How to provide reliable tracking across large deployments, spanning different buildings, floors, and covering both outdoor and indoor areas
- How to span the performance range of a location system from a low-cost presence detection to a high-accuracy real-time tracking system
- How to mitigate multipath propagation, reflections, and any other radio propagation phenomena
- How to operate robustly in the face of radio interference
- How to plan, deploy, and commission a location system in real physical environments while integrating into existing infrastructures
- How to create a secure system with advanced security features across all system components
- How to maintain a system’s operations by exposing features for easy monitoring and telemetry
- How to design and manufacture hardware (Locators and Tags), which are key components for enabling Location Services.
What Quuppa Brings to Its Partners
Since the very beginning, Quuppa has focused on serving customers as well as strategic business development, and has created the Quuppa Partner Ecosystem of companies.
Quuppa offers its Intelligent Locating System to all companies that are interested in building innovative and valuable location-based services for end customers, across many vertical markets. Quuppa has brought together a robust ecosystem of partners, including application developers, systems integrators, and those building low-cost Quuppa-compatible tags—each of whom brings unique solutions to the market.
Quuppa has spent the past 15 years perfecting the technology components that can run on the new direction finding feature added in version 5.1 of the Bluetooth core specification by designing, implementing, and field testing a complete location platform.
What Does the Future Hold?
Today, the Quuppa Intelligent Locating System™ is used for delivering solutions to address enterprise needs, such as increased operational efficiency, worker safety in oil & gas, security solutions (surveillance) for smart buildings, and myriad of other applications that benefit from precision location using AoA.
While the Bluetooth SIG specification provides for both AoA and AoD, AoD is still in its preliminary stages and requires the participation of the software operating system (OS) and hardware original design manufacturer (ODM) providers to put intelligence on future mobile devices. Effectively this means that first the silicon vendors need to implement the new 5.1 standard support in the radio chip, then the hardware manufacturers need to build devices with such new hardware components, and then the new angular-direction-enabling API needs to be passed to the software application layers via the OS. This will take about two years before the market will start to see large-scale consumer devices having such support, although some proprietary implementations may come earlier than that.
Once all the stakeholders are on board, the floodgates will open to a much broader range of consumer use cases enabled by precision location through AoD’s device-centric approach. Examples include wayfinding services at airports, malls, public buildings, location-based services for shoppers, hospitality loyalty services for restaurants, hotels…anything requiring smartphone support.
Quuppa has scaled its AoD capabilities alongside AoA, and AoD capabilities are available within our current systems. When AoD reaches market acceptance, Quuppa partners will be able to reap the rewards as well—using the same Quuppa system they already have in place. Stay tuned for more news on AoD in the coming months.