Telecommunication Systems (TCS) recently purchased Seattle-based inertial-navigation developer Loctronix to enhance the TCS portfolio of location-based solutions that can be leveraged to help first responders find 911 callers or to map the location of public-safety personnel at an incident scene, even when they are indoors.

While some location-based technologies are based on RF signaling, the Loctronix solution leverages inertial-navigation technology that operates independent of RF connectivity, according to Sameer Vuyyuru—group vice president and general manager for the TCS location business unit—who executed the Loctronix asset purchase.

“Inertial navigation basically is the ability to take inputs from all of the multiple sensors on a device—accelerometer, gyrometer, barometer, ambient light or one of the other 22 sensors on a mobile device these days—and essentially uses a custom algorithm to figure out the trajectory, pace and elevation of which way a person or a thing is headed,” Vuyyuru said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.

“One of the historical problems with such an approach is that these sensors are not very stable and tend to drift. What Loctronix has essentially patented is the ability to reset or recalibrate these sensors every time they detect any RF signal out there. They could pick up a Wi-Fi signal, a Bluetooth signal, a TV signal, a cellular base-station signal—any RF—and it uses it to recalibrate the sensor, so you get a very good level of accuracy for location and navigation.”

This includes Z-axis information that provides vertical location, which is particularly important when trying to locate someone in a multi-story building—a capability that the FCC has prioritized in its recent 911-location proceeding, Vuyyuru said.

“It does take a barometric reading,” he said. “Combine it with the barometric references that you get from base stations these days, and we can actually meet the upcoming FCC accuracy requirements for Z axis with this technology.”

Although some sort of wireless or wired connectivity is needed to transmit location data to a third party, the Loctronix solution does not require always-on RF connectivity to operate at a fundamental level, Vuyyuru said.

“Even without the presence of RF—a completely RF-free environment—we can still navigate and locate; it’s just that, over time, the accuracy is going to degrade,” he said. “Initially, we know it’s going to be sub-meter accuracy in all three dimensions. Over time—if it does not see RF for, say, 10 minutes—it starts to degrade

“For our applications, we see it as a perfect fit, because sometimes first responders are going to be called into situations where it’s an RF-free zone.”

This approach can greatly extend the battery life of a device, because it does not have to use power resources send RF signals constantly to track the user’s movement, Vuyyuru said.

“It’s one of the reasons we decided to execute on this purchase,” Vuyyuru said. “As you get into the wearables area, the ability to locate for a longer period of time becomes more important. With this, you can go up to 15 or 20 minutes with essentially zero RF, and RF is the primary battery-consumption driver in a mobile phone or an IoT device.

“We think we can actually bring down locationing power consumption to about 10% of what it is today.”