Ubiscale: low-power GNSS processing for tracking devices

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25 June 2019
The Ubiscale solution offers a ten-fold power consumption improvement compared to current state-of-the-art tracking devices.
The Ubiscale solution offers a ten-fold power consumption improvement compared to current state-of-the-art tracking devices.

A new solution developed by Ubiscale enables low-power GNSS sensing and position determination for applications such as asset tracking, where the tracking device does not need to know its own position. The GSA caught up with the project at MWC in Barcelona back in February.

GNSS-based tracking solutions allow companies to know where their assets are with high precision anywhere in the world. These assets can include transport containers and other logistics equipment or a variety of products. But tracking devices can also help common citizens keep tabs on personal belongings or help parents to ensure the safety of their children or other vulnerable family members.

Up to now, tracking solutions have faced major design limitations, because GPS sensors generally need a lot of power in order to work. Ubiscale has solved this problem by developing a unique software processing technology.

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The Ubiscale solution consists of an embedded software core that pre-process signals and a simple Application Programming Interface (API) to the 'Ubi.cloud' platform, which then delivers the effective device coordinates to the end user. Smart algorithms increase the reliability of the positioning. The solution is designed to enable close integration with 'Internet of Things' (IoT) and 'System on a Chip' (SoC) technologies.

Ubiscale General Manager Samuel Ryckewaert said, "What we can do with our Ubi.cloud solution is provide software that allows users to shift most of the data processing from a battery-powered tracking device to our cloud-based service. By doing so we can save a huge amount of power on the device side. The solution is perfect for applications such as asset tracking, where the size and lifetime of the device is critical.

"Imagine you are sending your child off to school," Ryckewaert said. "You can drop a small tracker in their bag and then on your cell phone you have regular reporting of their position. You can also define a clearly outlined safety area, for example, around the school, around the home and along the way from one to the other. If the tracker shows your child's position moving outside of this zone, you can receive an alert."

Ryckewaert said a number of services of this kind do already exist, "but the fact is that most of the devices now on the market can last only two days, three days, on a single battery charge, so it's very cumbersome in terms of the constraint to recharge the device."

Unique combination

The result delivered by the Ubiscale solution is a ten-fold power consumption improvement compared to current state-of-the-art tracking devices. "With our solution we have demonstrated that we can actually get up to eight months of autonomy with a small tracking device that you can easily hold with two fingers. So it's really a game-changer in this market," said Ryckewaert.

Ryckewaert pointed out that reducing the amount of power needed for GNSS signal processing is only one part of the problem. "It would not be a complete solution to simply reduce the signal processing part of the power consumption if we then needed a lot of power to transfer the remaining tasks to the cloud, so our solution includes ultra-light connectivity, using long range, Low-Power Wide-Area (LPWA) communication networks, such as NB-IoT, LTE-CatM1, LoRa, SigFox, Qowisio and others.

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"With both of these elements, decreased power consumption by the GNSS chipset and low-power connectivity to the cloud, we have achieved in the end a very much extended autonomous capability for these devices," Ryckewaert said.

Growing market

Ubiscale is working with a number of chipset vendors, including market leaders u-blox and STMicroelectronics. "We are particularly interested in providing support for Galileo-enabled chipsets," Ryckewaert said. "We want to be able to drive these chipsets directly, and we also have customers manufacturing asset trackers, like the ones I described before. For example, we have Invoxia which is a company designing a tracker that can be used to track personal belongings and people. We are also working with network operators, especially in the domain of seaport logistics."

In the near future, Ryckewaert said, Ubiscale sees these devices becoming more and more popular, especially as they get cheaper and more compact. "People will be able to wear these devices or set them in more discreet places. The goal is to make them small and difficult to find and remove, but we can also foresee higher-end, security-critical devices that work with different technologies, in combination with GNSS, because someone could try to jam a GNSS-only tracker."

There will be very clear security- and crime-related applications for this kind of technology, for instance the tracking of stolen objects. Ryckewaert said the police services and insurance business are very interested in these kinds of applications.

"So we think that we are just at the beginning of the usage of this kind of technology," Ryckewaert said. "The Ubiscale system, with this great step forward in terms of reduced power consumption, is therefore an important achievement."

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Updated: Jun 25, 2019