UWB wireless technology lifts the barrier

Cambridge Consultants has demonstrated a wireless tagging technology based on ‘ultra-wide band’ communications that has the potential to give commuters an invisible license to travel.

It could be used to eliminate barriers in railway systems and allow revenue-checking staff to target only ticket-less passengers.

Unlike today’s proximity smartcard tickets that need to touch or pass within a few centimetres of a reader, Cambridge Consultants’ ultra-wide band (UWB) technology has a range of 25 metres and can be sensed easily within a pocket or bag, eliminating queue-forming bottlenecks at railway entries or exits.

The technology additionally supports two-way communications and embedded intelligence. This provides the basis to design tags capable of implementing functions such as links to location-based services such as taxis, and sophisticated ticketing mechanisms such as support for multi-modal/multi-operator travel, and variable charging from an e-purse.

Despite offering this capability, a UWB tag can currently be implemented on a small module similar in size to a credit card, and has the potential to be integrated further – to a single low-cost chip and simple antenna. The highly efficient communications system that underpins UWB means that power consumption is minimal – even for advanced schemes involving two-way communications -necessitating only a tiny button cell.

Consequently, Cambridge Consultants anticipates that the price of UWB-based paperless tickets could be as low as 2 Euros for national-scale schemes – so they could be used for multi-journey and season-ticket passes. Combined with a tag’s reprogrammability, such a system could also provide travellers with a flexible token that could be charged with value or tickets to handle low-cost fares.

The reader for such a UWB tagging system comes in the form of a basestation, similar to that for a cordless phone, which could easily be carried by an inspector.

The precision location sensing capability of the system comes from the use of two basestations fitted with very low power UWB radar capability. With this capability, two basestations can sense the location of tags – or even people without tags – in a 3D zone covering an area of 25 x 25 metres.

This is enough to cover a train carriage for instance – providing the basis for intelligent paperless ticketing that allows inspectors to focus their time purely on ticketless passengers. Equally, basestations could be set up to precisely monitor a platform area. The components required for these short-range transceivers/location sensors are also simple, and could cost between 200 and 400 Euros depending on the features implemented.