DecaWave chip adds accuracy when locating indoor objects

The ScenSor DW1000 tunes in to wireless technology to let people locate important items such as medical equipment or even children.

DecaWave's DW1000 chip measures 6x6mm and costs $2 to $3 in volume.
DecaWave's DW1000 chip measures 6x6mm and costs $2 to $3 in volume. DecaWave

Misplaced your defibrillator again? Can't find the dog? Trying to keep track of your warehouse's forklifts?

An Irish chip designer called DecaWave has announced its first chip, the ScenSor DW1000, designed to let customers locate objects indoors with a precision of 10 centimeters, or about 4 inches. The devices uses the IEEE 802.15.4a wireless communication standard to pinpoint the location of medical equipment, pets, or other items.

The chips should cost about $2 to $3 in volume -- perhaps too expensive for attaching to a fob so you don't lose your keys, but justifiable for more costly or important items. To use it, the chip would be embedded in a device attached to the item, then tracked using wireless anchors that can determine the range to the device. The position can be calculated by measuring the "time of flight" of the radio signals; the longer it takes to send a signal, the farther away the device is.

Measuring 6x6mm, the chips consume power slowly enough that a battery could power them for years, the company said. They also could be powered by energy harvesting -- technology that extracts power from environmental conditions such as body heat or the shock waves that traverse rotating tires.

"Until now, 10cm location communications across close distances was not possible and current systems with meter-level accuracy have limited reliability, signals would be lost and there was a high risk for error," said DecaWave Chief Executive Ciaran Connell in a statement Thursday. "Our new ScenSor chip changes all that. It provides unprecedented accuracy all the time."

The chips are now shipping in volume, the company said.

DecaWave's DW1000 chip can be attached to medical devices or other apparatus that must be located precisely indoors. It enables location precision of 10cm, or about 4 inches.
DecaWave's DW1000 chip can be attached to medical devices or other apparatus that must be located precisely indoors. It enables location precision of 10cm, or about 4 inches. DecaWave

The Dublin-based company is hoping to tap into an idea called the Internet of things, in which vastly more objects than computers, TVs, and mobile phones get attached to the Net. That could include everything from doorknobs and hotel air conditioners to traffic signals and cattle. Often such communications are machine-to-machine (M2M), in which devices and computers interact automatically.

Such connections could be made with conventional Wi-Fi communication links, but that can require more computing and electrical power that is available to some devices. That's why engineers have created the 802.15.4 standard for short-range wireless networks that have relatively low data rates. The standard provides plumbing for higher-level protocols including ZigBee.

Updated 5:03 a.m. and 5:29 a.m. PT to include the price of the chip sold in higher volumes, about $2 to $3 apiece, and word that the chips are now shipping in volume.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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