With the integration of ultra-wideband sensors (UWB) in the new iPhone, Apple provided a popularity boost for UWB. The fact that such a sensor is now also integrated in the new Apple Watch 6 shows how much the tech giant expects from the technology. Not without reason UWB is also used in the fight against the COVID-19 virus. But what exactly are the advantages? Who is UWB interesting for? And how does ultra-wideband actually work? An overview.
Ultra-wideband or “UWB” is a radio-based communication technology for short-range use for the fast and stable transmission of data indoors and outdoors.
UWB technology has been in the Apple iPhone since 2019, followed by the new Samsung smartphones in 2020 — according to experts. And car manufacturers like VW and BMW are working on UWB-based features, too. A trend? Maybe. A brief one? Not likely, if you take a look its interesting history…
The first attempts to transmit messages wirelessly were made over 100 years ago. In 1900 Nikola Tesla came up with the idea of using electromagnetic waves to locate moving objects
The first successful practical application went back to a German engineer: With Christian Hülsmeyer’s invention of the “telemobiloscope” it was possible to measure the distance between ships and coasts. To date, UWB technology is used for localization.
With Bluetooth, GPS, RFID and others, other location technologies have been added. But each has its own advantages and disadvantages. So far, in terms of accuracy and speed, UWB is the most reliable localization technology. So, it’s no wonder that it is finding its way into the world — and not just in smartphones.
With the opportunity to position accurately and securely, UWB is a basic technology on our way to the Internet of Things (IoT). Mobile things not only have to be digitally networked; their live location must also be known. Especially in sensitive applications, the IoT without UWB is unthinkable — at least for the time being.
Thanks to its high precision, transmission speed and reliability, UWB technology is predestined for the localization of objects and people who move quickly on a small-scale and complex environments and processes.
Ultra-wideband is considered a key technology in the digitization of production and logistics. Because thanks to it, not only stationary “things” can be recorded, but also all mobile ones. This is the only way to seamlessly digitize shop floors, warehouses and process chains.
Action-packed shows are also digitized and automated via UWB. Because special effects are not only higher, louder and more glaring, but above all, faster. You can hardly keep up with it manually. Show special effects are therefore controlled on the screen with real-time tracking.
In team and extreme sports, the demands on performance and movement data are particularly high. In order to get ultra-fast and precise values despite the contorted halls, small playing fields, many athletes and additional network technologies, professionals rely on UWB
Even if ultra-wideband (UWB) is anything but in its infancy, the potential of the technology is far from being exhausted. The fact that Apple has integrated UWB sensors in its new iPhone but has not yet used them for the launch is just one example…
Where are shopping trolleys located? Where and for how long do customers stay? Questions like these, help improve the shopping experience. Localization and data analysis via UWB provide the answers and open up new ways of marketing.
Keeping the location and status of people in need of long-term care under control is also a task that can be automated with UWB — whether in intensive care units, emergency rooms or at home.
From the location of lost keys to the automatic unlocking and locking of doors and smart access restrictions for pets — there are many possible uses of UWB in the smart home area.
Keeping distance and securing the operation of companies is one of the biggest challenges in 2020. UWB technology is used to implement particularly precise, efficent and data protection-compliant digital solutions.
Now that UWB sensors have become the new standard in modern smartphones, other smart devices are following suit. The Apple Watch 6, launched in September, is now the first smart watch with such a sensor.
An Apple patent discloses how the car key could soon be a thing of the past: thanks to UWB localization, it could be sufficient to approach it with your own smartphone.
The NBA has been relying on UWB-based real-time athlete tracking for years. Over 70% of the associations work together with KINEXON. Now more and more college clubs are following suit.
Even one of the upcoming Samsung smartphones is said to contain UWB technology. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but Samsung’s wide range of smart home gadgets would enable countless applications.
Even in contorted halls and rooms where different wireless connection technologies overlap, objects can be tracked live and in all directions.
Ultra-wideband is therefore one of the key technologies for particularly demanding application areas such as the Internet of Things (IoT). Thanks to UWB, it is not only possible to digitize and automate stationary machines with stable connections, but also all mobile “things”.
UWB is a wireless technology that, despite its long history, can be viewed as new. Unlike other technologies, it is not tied to any frequency. In addition, UWB can transmit data over an extremely wide frequency spectrum.
Unused frequency capacities can therefore be used ideally. The UWB frequency range is at least 500 MHz. For comparison: WLAN channels are only about a tenth as wide.
UWB technology is based on the international standard IEEE 802.15.4a, which defines the physical level of the IR-UWB. The standard in the form of 802.15.4z was reopened in 2018. This should give the physical level more security.
Advantage: lowest energy consumption
How it works: The sensor emits signals which the anchors receive at different times according to their distance. The sensor position is calculated using time differences.
Application scope: Real Time Localization of “things” in large numbers
Advantage: highest precision and positional stability
How it works: The anchors send UWB signals, the sensors return them. The distance is calculated based on the time it takes the pulses between sending and receiving.
Area of application: Real Time Localization of workers, tools and navigation of driverless transport systems
Advantage: higher precision with little infrastructure
How it works: The moving object sends out UWB signals. The position is calculated via the angle of arrival and the direction of the signal relative to the anchor. Additionally, the signal strength of the UWB sender is included in the calculation.
Area of application: Real-time localization of objects and assets with little infrastructure
Advantage: can be implemented in restricted infrastructures
How it works: In order to determine the sensor position, the phase difference between received signals at both anchor antennas is evaluated and the angle of the signal is calculated relative to the anchor.
Application scope: Real Time Localization of “things” in large numbers
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