Key Components To Enable And Enhance IoT-Based Asset Tracking 

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November 8, 2023 / Future Electronics

This is the fourth article of the series: IoT-Based Asset Tracking. 

Now that we’ve covered the benefits, challenges and considerations of IoT-based asset tracking, it’s time to get specific about the key components that make this possible. In this article, we will go over some of the parts that truly play a key role in your applications. Where should you be making sure you’re getting your money’s worth?  

Dive in with our experts’ insight, and explore their perspectives, questions, and answers in this resourceful series.   

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From a sensors perspective: 

Special thanks to John Stih for his valuable collaboration 

The world of sensors is a dynamic playground of constant evolution. When it comes to IoT-based asset tracking, these devices form the backbone of the systems that lay the ground for endless possibilities. Which are some key sensors that could upgrade your projects then? 

Diverse Sensor Universe 

Sensors are vast and they can go from the traditional pressure, temperature and humidity sensors to new and innovative devices like VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) sensors. Of course, the first step is to contemplate your project’s needs, coming again to the question of ‘what you want vs what you need’. However, having a deep understanding of the types of devices out there can open several new doors that lead to success. A good example are these VOC sensors, which can play a pivotal role in the live tracking of food spoilage, ensuring food safety on any journey. 

Batteries That Speak 

With lithium-ion batteries taking over and powering virtually all our devices, sensors have evolved accordingly, providing us with valuable insight into batteries’ health. Thanks to pressure and VOC sensing profiles, we can now monitor crucial aspects like hydrogen levels in lithium-ion batteries, giving us game changing information to prevent battery failure.  

Inertial Sensors: The Foundation 

Inertial sensors such as accelerometers and gyroscopes are a staple working horse of IoT-based asset tracking. Thanks to their precise ability to provide data about orientation, proximity, and movement, lots of systems in the sector can be benefited or dependent on them. Inertial sensors also play a key role in dead reckoning, allowing devices to maintain their course when GPS signals become weak or unavailable.  

Proximity: Efficiency’s Ally 

Proximity sensors are your best friend to optimize efficiency in loading operations. The rise of this type of device has transformed the way we approach loading procedures, bringing optimal efficiency on loading docks or truck loading. Leveraging proximity sensors can play a defining role to fine-tune procedures in asset tracking operations 

The Camera Revolution 

Thanks to the revolutionary camera technology that has arisen in the last decade, thousands of possibilities are enabled every day, making them a cost-effective, valuable addition to IoT-based asset tracking. Offering real-time visual data, frame captures and High Dynamic Range (HDR) video, cameras bring an extra layer of security and information to any system. In-cabin cameras, for example, can now detect the presence of drivers or additional passengers, making sure they are safe, well rested, or countless other insightful pieces of information.  

From a wireless perspective: 

Special thanks to Rick Cartier for his valuable collaboration 

Now on the wireless perspective, we explored the nuts and bolts that drive connectivity in IoT-based asset tracking. What are the key elements that help us achieve seamless tracking operations? 

The Cellular Backbone 

It’s important to emphasize the centrality of cellular network when it comes to asset tracking. While seemingly everyone wants Wi-Fi, understanding and tackling the challenge of connecting to unfamiliar networks can be the difference between success and failure. Cellular networks are widely available and a popular choice, however the details may vary depending on the geographical characteristics of your projects.  

LoRa (Long Range) networks, on the other hand, are a promising option for transmitting minimal data with minimal power with impressive coverage over several kilometers. LoRa has gained traction since its development and, as it progresses, it becomes an interesting alternative for connectivity in the world of IoT. 

Sub-Gigahertz: Expanding the Reach 

Sub-gigahertz networks are becoming increasingly popular for specific closed system scenarios such as college campuses, agricultural enterprises, and other examples. These networks are attractive thanks to their Wi-Fi standard operation working on extended range and able to cater to unique tracking needs.  

Navigating GNSS Challenges 

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) provide vital positional data for asset tracking; however these are not without their setbacks. Using cellular modules for GNSS can bring latency. Understanding the trade-offs is important when relying on cellular networks. In addition, knowing your alternatives, such as using separate GPS modules or dual-mode solutions that can handle both cellular and GPS simultaneously can be the defining factor in a successful, accurate system.  

Bluetooth for Indoor Precision 

Finally, when it comes to indoor tracking, the spotlight is on Bluetooth. While it’s the default choice for many indoor positioning applications, its adoption varies by enterprise size. Nowadays, larger operations with thousands or hundreds of thousands of units are quickly implementing Bluetooth-based tracking solutions thanks to their scalability and cost-effectiveness. While smaller operations may choose alternative networks, time will tell if developments in the industry allow this type of solution to be accessible and convenient to all types of indoor-tracking needs.  

From a power perspective: 

Special thanks to Paul Schmokel for his valuable collaboration 

On the power side of the equation, the challenge lies in maximizing battery life and leveraging new charging technologies… which are the components to focus on to achieve this, making sure everything stays alive and well? 

Efficiency Matters 

The road to effective power management is paved by power efficiency. When it comes to finding the pivotal elements to make sure battery life is extended to the fullest, low IQ (quiescent current), low QS and high-efficiency switchers are often highlighted as the key to the task.  

Load Switches: Fine-Tuning Power 

On the topic of power management, load switches jump in as a clever solution to extend efficiency. Load switches are controlled by microcontrollers, and they come into play when certain sensors or components aren’t needed all the time. Through these clever little devices, complete power removal is enabled, significantly reducing power consumption with some load switches operating to levels as low as 20 or 10 picoamps! The downside here, however, is that turning components on after being completely powered down may introduce delays. The key to success here is evaluating the trade-off and deciding for what aligns best to the project needs.  

USB Type-C: A Charging Revolution 

Now when charging is available, USB Type-C technology immediately raises its hand. This versatile, increasingly adopted standard is booming, especially now with the European market embracing it. Thanks to USB Type-C Power Delivery (PD) asset tracking devices can be enabled for quick charging. Additionally, the standard’s programmable power supply and PPS augmented PDO capabilities allow for rapid battery replenishment, offering enticing opportunities for IoT asset tracking deployments. 

Future Electronics

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