In-building wireless system provider InnerWireless announced its development of a new, 802.15.4-based RF Location System (RFLS) that will let hospitals and medical facilities efficiently track key assets, including patients, personnel and equipment.

“In some respects, it is similar to RFID, but it is unique,” InnerWireless Chief Technology Officer Jim McCoy said. “RFID tells you where an asset was the last time it went through a reader; RFLS tells you where the asset is right now.”

InnerWireless’ technology uses “master” radios on each floor. The radios communicate with beacon devices in each room that read the family of tags, which can be affixed to the tracked asset, McCoy said. Because 802.15.4—upon which ZigBee technology is based—is a low-power standard, the beacons (about the size of a residential smoke alarm) operate on battery power and require no wiring.

RFLS tags likely will cost less than $25 and deploying an RFLS beacon will cost much less than installing an 802.11 access point, McCoy said. The result is an easily deployable system that is “orders of magnitude” cheaper than existing RF location systems, he said.

“A lot of people and lot of companies have tried to bring location technology into the healthcare environment, but … all of them have ended up with an economic [model] that just won’t scale,” McCoy said, noting that RFLS will scale.

Although RFLS beacons can operate as a mesh network, InnerWireless’ patent-pending technology lets them communicate directly with the master radio, as well, McCoy said. InnerWireless also is developing other intellectual property to let its tags be read by RFID readers and for its solution to integrate seamlessly with ZigBee applications, he said.

InnerWireless plans to begin beta testing the solution before the end of the year and hopes to announce general availability in late spring, McCoy said. The initial focus for RFLS is the healthcare market, but McCoy said the solution also should be very useful in the manufacturing and professional-office sectors.