Bluetooth’s Edge: Real-Time Events from Device to Cloud

Commercial IoT project teams are often given the same general challenge: select and install new wireless edge devices into an environment and demonstrate ongoing data collection from those devices to an application such as a dashboard, while ensuring solution scalability throughout. IoT devices can send data via a variety of wireless technologies. How do you decide which IoT technology is right for your project? The answer depends on if your data needs to be filtered and processed at the edge, and at what interval you need that data delivered from device to cloud.

Passive monitoring of an environment – such as for a space utilization study involving occupancy sensing – involves a data set collected over an extended period of time. In that case, having data sent to the cloud every ten minutes or so is acceptable. Whichever wireless technology you select will be capable of supporting that communication interval.

Active monitoring of an environment – such as high-value asset tracking in a warehouse – requires data to be collected and analyzed several times per second. The Bluetooth LE protocol is particularly suited to this type of use case for a number of reasons. I’ll illustrate why using the high-value asset tracking use case as an example.

Bluetooth for Real-time Data Processing

Intelligent asset tracking is useful across a variety of industries: logistics, healthcare, retail loss prevention – pretty much anywhere expensive physical assets exist. Real-time data monitoring and alerting is increasingly leveraged in these environments to improve asset utilization and as a reliable loss prevention measure, among other benefits.

Traditional loss prevention technologies like RFID tags or infrared either a) only detect an asset’s movement past a reader and/or b) don’t have a reliable mechanism for real-time reporting or remote alerting. The nearest example of real-time alerting that you might find is in your home alarm system. There, the combination of a low-power wireless protocol and Wi-Fi communicate an alert when motion is detected, a door is open, etc. Not so hard for a handful of devices, but not so easy in a commercial facility with thousands of devices.

This is where many IoT pilots break down: scaling from a few sensors to a production deployment. Edge processing and bandwidth constraints are revealed that can only be addressed by backing off the reporting interval.. and the gains from making everything connected are lost! Our latest webinar featured a commercial-scale asset tracking demo that showed how Bluetooth devices track and report on an object’s location as it moves through zones, and how automated alerting can let users know when movement happens. There’s a fundamental aspect to this process which is worth understanding. That’s the real-time data processing and filtering that’s happening in the background across all edge devices, all the time.

Bluetooth for Scaled Device to Cloud Deployments

Let’s de-construct our (seemingly simple) use case: alert a user immediately when a high-value object moves – leveraging an architecture that is scalable across multiple locations and thousands of devices. It’s not as simple as it might sound.

The first part of the solution is to notify an end device data aggregator (IoT gateway) as soon as the tracked asset is moved. This is accomplished most efficiently with a low-cost, low-power tag that includes an accelerometer. Score one for Bluetooth LE, because many such devices are available today, often boasting 3-5 years of battery life. Further, the proliferation of Bluetooth sensors and devices continues to drive down technology costs. [Curious about the range of Bluetooth? Learn the key factors, from the Bluetooth SIG.]

So, we have our asset tag advertising state data via Bluetooth LE. But blanketing a commercial space with tags and signal coverage doesn’t fulfill the ‘real-time alert to the user’ requirement for this use case. How do we do that? This is where a Bluetooth gateway with edge data processing power comes in. A gateway is required because a direct device to cloud architecture (via LTE or Wi-Fi) in this case would deliver an unmanageable amount of raw sensor data to the cloud. Scale, then, would be impossible. The gateway must act as a real-time data processor with the ability to filter for relevant state changes.

Bluetooth Real-time Event Architecture

Here’s an illustration of how we technically go from ‘someone walked away with the $300 Sonos speaker’ to ‘mobile user alert’ in under two seconds:

Bluetooth Real-time Event Flow
We get speed because the BLE beacon reports its accelerometer state several times every second. The gateway then aggregates that data into human-readable JSON, which is delivered every second. That’s a key point that accounts for much of our speed efficiency. We get scale because the gateway is configured to report selected data less frequently. It’s the perfect combination of low-cost physical asset coverage, very high frequency data collection, and intelligent processing.

Competing asset tracking technologies like RFID and infrared simply do offer the total solution speed and scale that Bluetooth does. Speed and scale are crucial for commercial IoT project success. Rigado’s Bluetooth + Edge Connect solution is built for high-interval device to cloud use cases like asset tracking. As a side note, our smart building occupancy monitoring solution works in similar fashion. In fact, our gateways do even more work in that case to analyze motion detection data to avoid false positives.

Final Note

I recently attended Realcomm’s CoRETech show where I heard a panelist describe this exact challenge in the Smart Buildings space. He said something to the effect of “we’re getting quality data about our spaces, but it’s 15 minutes too late.” I was happy throughout the course of the event to hear many mentions of Bluetooth as an emerging leader to address this issue for IoT in the Commercial Real Estate industry. In the coming months we anticipate sharing more about what Rigado and our partners are doing to make this a reality. Stay tuned!

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