We've always wanted [an] accurate position so that we can do tracking of precise manufacturing operations.

Matt Lowe
Founder and CEO, ZeroKey

In a recent episode of the Augmented Ops podcast, we explored the landscape of industrial IoT architectures and the role that MQTT plays with Matt Lowe, Founder and CTO of ZeroKey. Titled "Bringing Spatial Intelligence to Operations," the discussion with Lowe sheds light on the technology behind Quantum RTLS (Real Time Location System), how it can enable a wide range of use cases on the shop floor, and the importance of an open ecosystem approach to hardware and software.

Lowe describes taking the technology from a back-of-the-napkin idea, and developing it into the most accurate 3D position tracking system for industry. He provides a nuanced perspective on the state of location technologies and their application in industry, encouraging manufacturers to adopt this tech to unlock new ways to drive improvements across their operations.

What Sets Quantum RTLS Apart

ZeroKey’s Quantum RTLS represents a significant leap forward in the realm of real-time location tracking, offering unprecedented accuracy and a new method of tracking that sets it apart from traditional systems like RFID, GPS, or Ultra Wideband. But how exactly does Quantum RTLS work, and what makes it unique among its many competitors?

First and foremost, Quantum RTLS delivers an extreme level of precision and fidelity — locating objects in real time down to 1.5 millimeters in 3D space. This degree of accuracy far exceeds that of incumbent technologies, which generally measure location to within a meter, often in just a 2D plane. As Lowe describes, “This allows for smarter solutions and better solutions that precisely react to what’s going on as opposed to a more coarse position fix that would not give you that level of detail, wouldn’t give you that insight into, hey, this guy has used this tool in the wrong spot, or he skipped torquing the bolts on a jet engine that’s going to end up on a plane.”

This allows for smarter solutions and better solutions that precisely react to what’s going on.

Matt Lowe
Founder and CEO, ZeroKey

Unlike traditional location technologies that typically rely on some form of radio waves, ZeroKey achieves unparalleled performance by using ultrasound instead. For one, ultrasound greatly reduces the common issue of multipath interference found in radio-based systems. Radio signals often reflect off surfaces in complex indoor environments, causing the waves to travel longer distances than they should, which results in an inaccurate location estimation. Ultrasound signals, on the other hand, tend to disperse upon hitting surfaces, which helps reduce multipath issues and maintain the integrity of the positioning data.

Moreover, the slower propagation speed of ultrasound compared to radio waves allows Quantum RTLS to capture far more accurate timing measurements. This is crucial for achieving the millimeter-level precision that Quantum RTLS boasts. Lowe explains that “one of the advantages of a slower moving signal is that you can actually be much more precise in timing how long that signal took to get from point A to point B. There’s some pretty heavy math behind all of it, but it’s really one of the big enablers of why we can get to that 1.5 millimeters.”


Solving Problems With Quantum RTLS

Lowe goes on to share a number of stories illustrating how RTLS technology can solve a variety of problems faced in production environments.

He described a typical 50,000 square foot warehouse, which was facing challenges with locating received goods, leading to inefficiencies and increased operational costs. By outfitting each of the warehouse personnel with a ZeroKey tracking node, they were able to record its 3D location every time an inventory barcode was scanned. Matt Lowe recounted the effectiveness of this solution, stating, "immediately overnight, they never lost anything. It was just that simple." Not only did this prevent the loss of inventory, but it also allowed them to build a heatmap of where personnel were throughout the warehouse, which increased efficiency by helping them better spread out their workers.

Lowe also detailed a different use case in the automotive industry, where precision and repeatability are paramount. In this instance, a tier one automotive supplier had struggled with massive amounts of rework due to errors as a result of updated SOPs. "By the time they had actually caught the error and realized it was an error, they were already into the thousands of vehicles," Lowe explains. They decided to implement ZeroKey’s tech to proactively address these problems. Because of the high level of accuracy, they were able to track the operator's actions throughout the assembly process, which enabled the detection of errors in real-time. This drastically reduced the risk of large-scale manufacturing mistakes, which meant substantial costs but also safeguarded the company's reputation by ensuring product quality.

Had our system been in at the time, the mistake would have never made it past the operator who's actually doing that step of the process.

Matt Lowe
Founder and CEO, ZeroKey

Perhaps one of the most compelling applications of Quantum RTLS is in the high-stakes world of luxury goods manufacturing, where the loss or mismanagement of expensive raw materials can incur significant costs. In this instance, ZeroKey and Tulip teamed up to "double verify" a luxury jeweler’s inventory processes. This system used the precise positioning capabilities of Quantum RTLS combined with Tulip Vision to automatically track and photograph bins of materials as they moved around the production area, enhancing traceability of their inventory of precious metals. Lowe explained the critical nature of this application: "These precious metals worth thousands, tens of thousands, maybe more, [can disappear] from all of your tracking systems because when you have RFID or when you have barcodes, you only have a capture at a point in time." With Quantum RTLS, not only could the location of these valuable items be pinpointed, but their movement could be monitored and verified in real-time, adding a robust layer of traceability and accountability to their operations.

An operator with a barcode scanner interacting with a Tulip app

The Power of the Open Ecosystem

As in the luxury goods use case, the real power of ZeroKey comes when it is integrated with other systems as part of an open technology ecosystem. Long gone are the days when a single vendor could supply best-in-class solutions for all aspects of a manufacturing operation. The transition towards open, interoperable digital architectures is what enables manufacturers to select the combination of tools and technologies that best fits the unique requirements of their operations. As Lowe explains, “it's not just about positioning, right? It's about all of these supporting technologies being deployed together in an ecosystem that's open, where customers can easily do that without having to bring in a system integrator to provide a custom solution.”

This open approach allows manufacturers to stay agile by making it straightforward to adopt new technologies like ZeroKey’s Quantum RTLS and integrating them into your existing architecture. By building their tech stack around an ecosystem of open protocols and standards, manufacturers can seamlessly integrate solutions from a wide range of vendors to create powerful, future-proof solutions tailored to the specific needs of their processes.

Bring Spatial Intelligence to Operations

Check out the full podcast episode for Lowe’s take on how different approaches to positioning stack up, and the ways that spatial intelligence can unlock new ways of solving problems on the shop floor.

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