Yesterday at the show, Semtech announced a new SaaS (software as a service) chip-to-cloud service called LoRa Cloud Locator, that uses Semtech’s LoRa Cloud Modem and Geolocation services. Engineers can use the service to evaluate and develop indoor/outdoor asset tracking systems that use Semtech’s LoRa Edge ICs. Semtech believes this solution will thrive in the huge and growing LoRa asset tracking market.
As the installed base of LoRa devices ramps up, Semtech says asset tracking is the largest use case across all verticals. Image courtesy of Semtech
In this article, we look at the benefits of cloud-assisted asset tracking, examine the details of LoRa Cloud Locator, and share insights from our interview with Karthik Ranjan, LoRa Cloud Partnerships and Solutions Leader at Semtech.
IoT Asset Tracking Use Cases Abound
Forecasts by IOT Analytics show LoRa devices passing an installed base of a billion units by 2025. Across all the verticals in that market, Ranjan says asset tracking is the star. “What we’ve seen throughout those markets is that asset tracking is probably one of the biggest use cases across every single vertical,” he says. “We have things like tracking wheelchairs, infusion pumps in hospitals, pet tracking, shopping carts, and cattle tracking. So this is a really big market.”
As Ranjan explains, the new service exploits the concept in asset tracking of doing location calculations in the cloud rather than on the tracking chip itself. This allows you to use LoRa-based chips that aren’t encumbered with power-hungry on-chip GNSS capabilities. The cloud-assisted approach also means your LoRa device can be powered down more often.
According to Ranjan, battery life has been cited as the top challenge for users and developers of IoT asset tracking systems. It’s also difficult to craft an asset tracking implementation that is suited for both indoor and outdoor use.
How LoRa Edge ICs Work With LoRa Cloud Locator
LoRa Cloud Locator is designed specifically to be paired with trackers that embed Semtech’s LoRa Edge LR-series chips. Once configured on the LoRa Cloud Locator service, the LoRa Edge chips use Semtech’s LoRa wireless radio frequency technology for transmission to the cloud. Developers are able to view the tracker location on the map, typically in less than 15 minutes, according to the company.
For outdoor tracking, the LoRa Edge chips make use of GNSS in a simplified way. “We seed the device with a “coarse” (rough) location, like you’re in the state of Washington for example,” says RanJan. “And with that, we know what satellites are in the sky from that coarse location. And the chip then wakes up, looks at the satellite, gets the timing information, and then goes back to sleep.
“It sends that to the cloud and then it doesn’t need to sit there and run anymore. So that’s how we’re getting some of the battery life savings,” says Ranjan. “That means we’re doing the work of calculating the actual latitude and longitude in the cloud.“
Wi-Fi Scan for Indoor Tracking
In a similar way, for indoor tracking, LoRa Edge devices use a functionality called “Wi-Fi Scan.” Wi-Fi Scan works using the same technology that’s used when your smartphone looks for Wi-Fi hotspots/SSIDs within range. According to Ranjan, it’s really the same technology built into a chip. In the LoRa Edge device, it sends all those SSIDs of those hotspots to the cloud.
The LoRa Cloud Locator service takes that data, and because it knows you’re near those Wi-Fi hotspots, it knows your location. The LoRa Edge devices also embed a cryptography capability for added security within IoT devices.
LoRa Edge devices send data via LoRa wireless technology to the cloud, where LoRa Cloud Locator does all the work calculating the device’s location. Image courtesy of Semtech
Using those techniques, LoRa Cloud Locator can do asset tracking of a device, whether it’s indoors or outdoors. By complementing the asset tracking chip with a cloud service, system developers can build IoT asset tracking devices with months or years of battery life versus the weeks of battery life such devices consumed before.
“That’s a 10x power savings,” says Ranjan, “And you also get the cost savings because now you don’t have multiple chips on the device itself for location calculation. You can do it all with just the LoRa Edge chip and a microcontroller.”
Compatible LoRa Trackers Available
LoRa Cloud Locator provides built-in serverless technology. Developers can use it to evaluate LoRa Edge chips implemented in various IoT trackers, using either a private or public LoRaWAN network.
Developers can use Semtech’s LoRa Edge Tracker Reference Design when trying out LoRa Cloud Locator. Shown here is an example situation of a cattle tracking application. Image courtesy of Semtech
According to Semtech, anyone interested in using LoRa Cloud Locator can purchase a LoRa Edge-enabled tracker and create a LoRa Cloud Locator account. To access the service, you can visit locator.loracloud.com.
On that site, users can view a selection of compatible trackers by various vendors. Once they’ve purchased a tracker, users can log to the service. They can then register their tracker and view its location on a map using a browser on either their desktop or mobile device.
Semtech is demonstrating LoRa Cloud Locator all this week at Embedded World at booth 4A-556 (Hall 4A).