Electrical engineers from UC San Diego's Jacob's School for Engineering have improved ultra-wideband technology, allowing it to be used for precision, real-time 3D motion capture. It could also be used for other applications, including in-door mapping and navigation, smart warehouses with inventory tracking, and real-time VR and sports analytics. To use UWB for those applications, the team had to overcome several limitations with current technology.
The engineers needed the UWB systems to work faster than they usually could and at extremely low power. They also needed it to provide high accuracy for 3D localization, so they built a prototype system that could deliver those requirements. The device processes data at a latency of just one millisecond; it can run for more than two years or more than two years on a small coin cell battery. It can pinpoint a 3D location within three centimeters for stationary and eight centimeters for moving objects.
UWB systems typically locate objects using two components — a tracking unit, known as a "tag," which can be attached to an object, and devices known as "anchors," which are installed at various locations to detect radio signals from the tag. Tracking is done by sending out signals to every anchor and measuring the time it takes for the tag to receive those signals back. There's a lot of signal exchanging, with the tag sending a separate signal to each anchor, and then sending those signals back, making the system slow.
To simplify the process and make the system faster, the team updated the software for the tag, so it only needs to send one signal to all of the anchors at once. Not only does it make UWB faster, but it also uses less power. They also designed new anchors that only need one signal to read the tag's 3D location. The engineers are now looking to build an end-to-end motion capture system for VR gaming and autonomous robots that work in healthcare.