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Internet of Things March 2020 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: David Strachan-Olson

Reemergence of Ultrawideband Communications

Why is this topic significant?

Ultrawideband-communication systems are not new, but large industry players are showing a renewed interest in developing and deploying UWB technologies for a variety of applications.

Description

Ultrawideband (UWB) uses a wide band of spectrum (commonly 500 megahertz or greater) and pulsed operation instead of modulating a narrow-band carrier wave, which is common for most other electronic communications. The ultrawide spectrum use in combination with pulsed low-power operation means that UWB signals have minimal interference with other electronic communications, such as cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Additionally, the unique signal properties of pulsed UWB transmissions enable devices to calculate time-of-flight and directional information between transmitting and receiving devices. The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) approved a standard for UWB communication—802.15.4a—in 2007, but a working group is developing a new standard—802.15.4z—that will improve the time-of-flight and directional aspects of UWB to enable new applications in security and asset tracking.

In recent years, a number of companies have begun developing and deploying UWB technologies for location tracking. Apple's latest iPhones—iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro—feature a custom chip that enables UWB communications. So far Apple's UWB technology improves the user experience of AirDrop only. NXP is developing UWB components for keyless entry systems for the automotive industry and has shown a demonstration system in collaboration with Volkswagen. The FiRa (Fine Ranging) Consortium, which was established in 2019, aims to promote the development of UWB technologies for tracking applications and building industry consensus about standards. Notable participants in the consortium include Samsung, NXP, Bosch, Decawave, Sony, and Xiaomi.

Implications

Although UWB communication systems are not new, companies are showing a renewed interest in the technology because of its unique tracking capabilities. Other benefits include minimal interference with existing radio signals and low-power operation. Early applications of UWB technology will likely focus on secure access. Because receiving devices can understand the exact position of a broadcast signal, devices can prevent access unless a signal comes from a specific source. For instance, some smart door locks accidently unlock when a user walks by the door from inside the house. UWB could make sure the door unlocks only when a user is a few feet from outside the door. Additionally, UWB technologies could resist attacks that involve an attacker's intercepting and rebroadcasting signals, which is a growing concern for existing wireless automotive key fobs.

Impacts/Disruptions

An interesting aspect of the FiRa Consortium is that it wants to integrate and interface with existing wireless standards instead of trying to replace them. The consortium wants UWB to work with other wireless interfaces so device manufacturers can leverage the advantages of each communication type. UWB could provide location and security features, but large data transfer would still occur over Wi-Fi or cellular. Imaginably, as UWB standards become final and component production ramps up, many new opportunities for UWB will emerge in warehousing, manufacturing, retail, asset tracking, and home applications.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Smart cities, traffic management, connected vehicles, urban infrastructure

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Advanced Traffic-Management Systems

Why is this topic significant?

Advanced traffic-management systems are currently one of the most compelling applications for smart-city technology.

Description

For decades, cities have implemented technologies—such as traffic signals with vehicle sensors and automated toll systems—to improve the flow of traffic. Now, the falling price of hardware and the rise of machine-learning and other analytics tools are providing transit agencies with more options for understanding traffic patterns and managing traffic.

A major advance to smart-city systems in recent years has been the development of computer-vision algorithms that make counting and tracking vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists much easier. Since 2018, the city of San Diego, California, has worked with Current, a General Electric subsidiary, to deploy over 3,000 smart streetlights. Initially, the streetlights could monitor moving and parked vehicles only, but now the system can also detect pedestrians and bicyclists. The city uses the data from the cameras to gain an understanding of how vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians use the streets and to inform street redesigns.

Intelligent intersection systems, which monitor traffic flow and coordinate light signaling, are becoming more common. Rapid Flow Technologies' Surtrac system enables cities to add real-time adaptive control to traffic signals on the basis of information from cameras and radar sensors. Rapid Flow claims that a Surtrac deployment in parts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, led to a 26% reduction in travel times, up to a 41% decrease in intersection wait times, and a 21% reduction in vehicle emissions.

Systems are also emerging that can improve traffic congestion by helping emergency personnel identify and respond to accidents and stalled vehicles quickly. Computer-vision systems can monitor video feeds from existing traffic cameras to identify stalled vehicles on highways and automatically notify authorities. The Israeli start-up Waycare is developing a traffic-management platform that identifies locations where accidents are likely to occur so authorities can take preventive action. Waycare has tested its system in Nevada and is planning to expand to Ohio and Florida.

Implications

In comparison with many other smart city initiatives, advanced traffic management is an application of Internet of Things technology that has clear direct benefits for cities. Traffic congestion is a growing problem in cities around the world as the population of cities increases and as more individuals choose to use personal vehicles for transportation. Advanced traffic-management systems could help reduce traffic congestions, prevent accidents, and help authorities respond to accidents quickly. Cities should be able to deploy such systems relatively easily, because often the new hardware and software can integrate with existing public infrastructure, such as traffic lights, streetlights, traffic cameras, and parking meters.

Impacts/Disruptions

Currently, most traffic-management systems depend on data coming from sensors and cameras deployed by the city itself. In the future, such systems may also leverage data coming from private sources through Vehicle-to-X (V2X) systems. Many vehicles already have a rudimentary version of V2X in the form of smartphone-based navigation apps and vehicles operating as part of ride-sharing and package-delivery networks such as Uber and DoorDash. If city operators could access these data, they could have a much more detailed picture about the movement of traffic within a city. In recent months, a few cities have pressured some companies—especially companies that rent scooters and bicycles—to begin sharing trip information.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium to High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

IoT devices, connected homes, home networks, routers, access points, video streaming

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: