Passive UHF Location SEnsing (PULSE)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Engineering

Abstract

Within the TINA project, Cambridge University has demonstrated the feasibility of using low cost UHF RFID technology in a new way to provide (i) enhanced tag read range (to >10m), (ii) increased (100%) tag reading probability and (iii) the ability to locate the passive tag to approximately 1m resolution. This has been achieved by combining a customised RFID reader with a distributed antenna system. The ability to use the distributed antennas in a collaborative manner acts to remove the effect of radio propagation fades and also has allowed the development of algorithms, which have been implemented on RFID firmware, to take the RF information from the individual antennas and use this to generate the location information. The TINA project resulted in two ongoing patent applications to protect the concepts described above.These enhancements to passive UHF RFID have generated a great deal of interest, both in an academic sense - we have presented the results in invited papers and a keynote at 5 international conferences - but also commercially across a variety of sectors. The PULSE project therefore seeks to further the commercialisation of the technology. It will do this via (i) building a prototype system suitable for demonstration to customers and (ii) working with commercial partners to understand better the market opportunities and, concentrating on the retail sector, develop an application demonstration based on the prototype location system and field trial this approach. This twin pronged approach will allow the identification of the best route to commercialisation and, working in collaboration with MBA students from the Judge Business School, will result in business plans to map this route forward.

Planned Impact

We expect the technology development within the PULSE project to have a major commercial impact. Using the four areas of Impact as defined by EPSRC, this will include: Economy: The market for RTLS RFID is expected to grow from $153M in 2009 to $2.6B in 2018 and the PULSE technology will be able to service the majority of this market. A successful commercialisation of the technology will allow UK industry to benefit by (i) the creation of a spin out company from the University of Cambridge, (ii) improved products and markets for the PULSE project partners Herbert Retail and Zinwave and (iii) better and cheaper processes for sectors such as retail, security and travel. Society: The ability to provide real time location services with ultra low cost passive tags where previously expensive active tags were required will open up a wide range of applications with potential to benefit wider society in people's day to day lives. This will include applications within the retail market (as focussed on within this proposal), but also in areas as diverse as security, medical, sensing, crime prevention and travel. Knowledge: We anticipate that the PULSE project will stimulate new areas of research, for example the integration of environmental sensors into passive UHF RFID tags. The resulting knowledge will be disseminated to the research community by journal publication and participation in conferences. Finally, we hope to educate and reach out to the public with the new technology through public seminars, presentations, demonstrations and exhibitions. We believe this is necessary as it is anticipated that this new technology will become part of everyone's daily life in the future. People: The two research staff who will be involved with this project will gain invaluable experience in taking a technology concept from university research into a commercial venture, in the process gaining commercial and entrepreneurial skills. The inclusion of activities such as iTeams and MBA projects will allow a wider pool of students, across the engineering, economics and business departments, to benefit from the project providing experience in finding potential applications and routes to market for a real technology under active commercialisation.
 
Description The PULSE project has demonstrated even further the commercialisation of the technology developed in the TINA project. It has done this via (i) building a prototype system suitable for demonstration to customers and (ii) working with commercial partners to understand better the market opportunities and, concentrating on the retail sector, developing an application demonstration based on the prototype location system and field trial this approach. This twin pronged approach has allowed the identification of the best route to commercialisation and, working in collaboration with MBA students from the Judge Business School, has resulted in business plans to map this route forward.

Specifically the Key Findings to date are
Prototype DAS RFID reader system for passive RFID tracking over large areas - 20 m x 20 m demonstrated to date with effectively error free detection accuracy (>99.99% tag detection accuracy in challenging environments), Capable of scaling to a large building and also has the potential to provide accurate real time location system (RTLS) coverage
RFID demonstration software for real time identification of EPC Class1 Gen2 RFID tags, allowing tag read functionalities. The software provides basic control of the Reader functions, collects tag responses in a MySQL database, displays tag information in real-time and allows the operator to download tag responses in CSV format
Suitability of system for document tracking applications
Suitability of system for assent tracking applications
Development of stable prototype system for demonstration / trials
Market assessment of opportunities for passive UHF RFID DAS. Retail and manufacturing identified and the most likely initial adopters.
Exploitation Route The project has lead to the formation of a spinout, PervasID Ltd, which will commercialise the technology with a wide range of applications, for example:

Lost documents cause wasted time and money in a variety of office environments, particularly legal offices. Avoiding such events will reduce waste and increase efficiency

Asset management is vital part of may businesses. The use of wide are RFID allows an asset management system to be deployed without altering the business process or introducing additional tasks for the asset users.

Inventory control for retail. The use of wide area RFID enables real time accurate inventory checking. The spin out has conducted an extensive field trial in this area with multi-million pound sales potential to a single customer.

Beyond the spinout further research will be carried out on the stable platform developed
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Retail,Transport,Other

 
Description Investigates the feasibility of using long range battery-less passive radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking in asset tracking application. Beneficiaries: Collaborating company has had advanced exposure to potential market disrupting technology earlier than they would otherwise. End users will benefit following commercialisation Contribution Method: Research demonstrated real economic benefits of the technology in a realistic scenario Investigates the feasibility of using long range battery-less passive radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking in document tracking application. Beneficiaries: Collaborating company has had advanced exposure to potential market disrupting technology earlier than they would otherwise. End users will benefit following commercialisation Contribution Method: Research demonstrated real economic benefits of the technology in a realistic scenario Formation of spin-out company. A spin-out company has been formed. Beneficiaries: Inventors, potential future staff and investors Contribution Method: Research demonstrated real economic benefits of the technology in a range of practical use cases. Large Commercial trail of system by customer of spin-out company Beneficiaries: spin-out company, trail customer, shoppers Contribution Method: System has been deployed in a large retail store to study impact of the system on inventory control and potential return on investment. The company has also now sold systems in to several hospitals for asset tracking and is negotiating a >£1m contract with a US company to supply equipment to the aerospace industry.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Retail,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Boeing Research Framework
Amount £136,000 (GBP)
Organisation Boeing 
Sector Private
Country United States
Start 10/2013 
End 10/2015
 
Description Boeing Research Framework
Amount £136,000 (GBP)
Organisation Boeing 
Sector Private
Country United States
Start 05/2013 
End 04/2015
 
Description Boeing Technology transfer
Amount £33,125 (GBP)
Organisation Boeing 
Sector Private
Country United States
Start 07/2013 
End 07/2014
 
Description Boeing Technology transfer
Amount £33,125 (GBP)
Organisation Boeing 
Sector Private
Country United States
Start 04/2013 
End 04/2014
 
Description Impact Accelleration Account
Amount £59,310 (GBP)
Organisation University of Cambridge 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2016 
End 03/2017
 
Description LAGEMOSYS - LAnding GEar MOnitoring SYStems
Amount £1,983,830 (GBP)
Funding ID 113020 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2014 
End 06/2017
 
Description Passive RFID Real Time Location System for Intelligent Airport
Amount £205,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NPRP 4-726-2-272 
Organisation Qatar University 
Sector Academic/University
Country Qatar
Start 10/2012 
End 10/2015
 
Description Passive RFID Real Time Location System for Intelligent Airport
Amount £205,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NPRP 4-726-2-272 
Organisation Qatar University 
Sector Academic/University
Country Qatar
Start 04/2012 
End 03/2015
 
Description The Royal Academy of Engineering ERA Foundation Entrepreneurs Award
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Organisation Royal Academy of Engineering 
Sector Learned Society
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2011 
End 04/2013
 
Description The Royal Academy of Engineering ERA Foundation Entrepreneurs Award
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Organisation Royal Academy of Engineering 
Sector Learned Society
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2011 
End 04/2013
 
Description Document tracking trial 
Organisation Civica
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Trial to assess the suitability of the sytem within a commercial office environment. RFID DAS system deployed in their offices for a period of a month to assess the ability of the system to track paper files in an office environment. 100% detection of over 100 files demonstrated.
Collaborator Contribution The collaborating company hosted a long term trial on their premises.
Impact Trial established how the RFID system could be used to track documents in an office environment.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Extended Range RFID RTLS 
Organisation Boeing
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Grant from Boeing company to develop a multi-zone wireless repeater infrastructure that enables asset tracking and position location with pervasive coverage of factory floors. Work includes demonstration of pervasive wide area wireless repeater with low cost wired/ wireless infrastructure with at least 30 m range per zone, 99.9% read accuracy and up to 3 zone.
Start Year 2013
 
Description MBA venture project 
Organisation University of Cambridge
Department Cambridge Judge Business School
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution 8 week MBA team project to carry out market research. The challenge for the MBA team in this project was to investigate fully the potential markets for PULSE technology: Healthcare, Retail, Manufacturing, Aerospace/Automotive, Security, Transport/Infrastructure, and Logistics. Each market was analysed and classified carrying out a full SWOT analysis. On this basis, the MBA team devised a market strategy for commercialisation.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Passive RFID Real Time Location System for Intelligent Airport 
Organisation Qatar Mobility Innovations Center (QMIC)
Country Qatar 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Research project with QMIC - a division of Qatar Univeristy to carry out reasearch into the use of RFID within airports
Start Year 2012
 
Title RFID TAG INTERROGATION SYSTEMS 
Description We describe an RFID tag reading system for reading one or more RFID Tags, the system comprising an RF transmitter and an RF receiver, a plurality of transmit/receive antennas coupled to said RF transmitter and to said RF receiver, to provide spatial transmit/receive signal diversity, and a tag signal decoder coupled to at least said RF receiver, wherein said system is configured to combine received RF signals from said antennas to provide a combined received RF signal, wherein said RF receiver has said combined received RF signal as an input; wherein said antennas are spaced apart from one another sufficiently for one said antenna not to be within the near field of another said antenna, wherein said system is configured to perform a tag inventory cycle comprising a plurality of tag read rounds to read said tags, a said tag read round comprising transmission of one or more RF tag interrogation signals simultaneously from said plurality of antennas and receiving a signal from one or more of said tags, a said tag read round having a set of time slots during which a said tag is able to transmit tag data including a tag ID for reception by said antenna, and wherein said system is configured to perform, during a said tag inventory cycle, one or both of: a change in a frequency of said tag interrogation signals transmitted simultaneously from said plurality of antennas, and a change in a relative phase of a said RF tag interrogation signals transmitted from one of said antennas with respect to another of said antennas. 
IP Reference WO2011135329 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2011
Licensed Yes
Impact Formation of a spin out company to exploit the IP
 
Title RFID Tag Interrogation Systems 
Description Coverage patent claiming priority from GB1006907.8 filed on the 26th April 2010 and GB1021454.2 filed on the 17th December 2010 
IP Reference WO2011135329 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2013
Licensed Yes
Impact Technology to be licensed to spin out company Technology transfer carried out to Boeing
 
Title RFID Tag Location Systems 
Description Location patent claiming priority from GB1006904.5 filed on the 26th April 2010 and GB1021455.9 filed on the 17th December 2010 
IP Reference WO2011135328 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2013
Licensed Yes
Impact Formation of a spinout company Technology transfer activity to Boeing
 
Title Rfid tag location systems 
Description We describe a methods of locating an RFID tag. One method comprises: transmitting tag location signals from a plurality of different transmit antennas, wherein said antennas are spaced apart by more than a near field limit distance at a frequency of a said signal; receiving a corresponding plurality of receiving return signals from said tag; and processing said tag return signals to determine a range to said tag; wherein said transmitting comprises transmitting at a plurality of different frequencies; wherein said processing comprises determining a phase difference at said plurality of different frequencies to determine said range, and wherein said determining of said phase difference determines a phase difference between either i) two or more of said transmit signals resulting in a maxima in the returned signal RSSI or ii) a first transmit signal and its corresponding return signal; and wherein said determining of said range to said tag uses said return signals weighted responsive to a respective received signal strength of the return signal. Further data which may be used for averaging may be generated by using the above techniques along with changes in the polarisation state of the transmit and receive antennas and/or physical reconfiguration of the antennas (e.g. switch the transmit and receive elements). 
IP Reference WO2011135328 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2013
Licensed Yes
Impact Formation of spin-out company to commercialise technology Technology transfer activity to Boeing
 
Company Name PervasID 
Description Created a University spin-out, PervasID to exploit the technology. The PervasID technology is based on a ground-breaking battery-less UHF RFID system that enables customers to monitor their items, both cheaply and effectively, in real-time. The RFID DAS system consists of a centralised RFID DAS controller/reader unit, feeding a number of antennas over co-ax cables. The antennas, which are distributed over the interrogation area are used in a collaborative manner for enhanced tag detection and location, compared with conventional systems. The time required to inventorise a large population of tags is also reduced. The RFID DAS unit is equipped with an Ethernet interface allowing tag information to be uploaded to a centralised server for processing, analysis and display. 
Year Established 2011 
Impact The encouraging results of this grant and the successful collaboration with potential end users in trials have prompted the inventors of the technology to form a spin-out company, PervasID Ltd. In 2015 PervasID carried out a large trail with a Blue Chip retail store. The trail involved over 140 systems tracking goods across the entire store (typically over 100k items). This demonstrated that the approach is unrivalled in the market in terms of performance. Further trails which are hoped to lead to a nationwide roll out are on going. Has now received 750k seed funding and in 2018 £1.6m series A funding and has had sales to over 10 organisations
Website http://www.pervasid.com