Tallinn Airport, selected as Europe’s top aviation hub, stands out for its innovation and development. Sustainable development at the airport also extends to consistent development of systems and technologies.
“As the airport is launching several projects to take the next steps forward in customer service, it also wants to be able to monitor processes in real time. The airport’s greatest challenge is to provide rapid service to a growing numbers of travellers during peak hours to ensure on-time departures. The more data we have about the details of related processes, the more efficiently we can deal with potential problems,” said Aviation Security Manager Tarvi Pihlakas regarding the testing of the real-time monitoring system.
The novel technology sparked curiosity as well as some initial doubts. “We hadn’t had experiences with similar indoor positioning solutions, and thus we wanted to get to know the possibilities better. We also wanted to see how it worked and how reliable it would be in the conditions of an airport,“ said Pihlakas.
The pilot project had another side as well: the Eliko IoT development centre develops high-tech positioning systems right here in Tallinn. That means that the airport’s team familiarized itself with indoor positioning options in cooperation with local world-class experts. In exchange, Eliko’s engineers gained valuable experience for further developing their systems and the Estonian electronics industry in general.
More efficient planning with the indoor positioning technology
Although the system’s application areas are broad, it was initially used to track use of the baggage-handling vehicles indoors. “We fastened the tracking devices to the baggage tractors that transport passenger-checked luggage to the aircraft and monitored their movements over a month’s time. This pilot project gave us an overview of where and how much equipment we have in use at any given time. We learned how much time it took to on- and offload baggage and get it to baggage claim, and we also obtained information on general use, parking and loading of vehicles,” said Pihlakas.
The data gathered can be used for optimum planning of the territory we need to expand in future. For example, the baggage-handling area is currently being expanded. “In future, the area will be significantly larger and there will be more vehicles moving around there. Then we will have to see where the loading areas and parking will be located so that these vehicles can be an efficient part of the customer service process.“
Pihlakas said the airport team has a high regard for the Eliko system’s simplicity, flexibility and reliability: “The long and short of it is that Eliko RTLS is an easily installed indoor positioning solution that lets you know exactly where the asset you’re tracking is located. We made use of our IT networks and systems and didn’t have to rebuild anything in the interior to get the system installed. The environment we installed KIO in has lots of obstacles with concrete and steel and KIO worked great there.”
Ultra-wideband technology is unique in the Baltics
The system used at Tallinn Airport is called RTLS (Real Time Location System), and is based on a unique ultra-wideband (UWB) radio technology. UWB is making inroads in other countries around the world but is still quite new in the Baltics.
Eliko CEO Indrek Ruiso says indoor positioning has great potential in the near future: “In outdoor spaces, positioning is mainly based on satellite navigation systems (GNSS), but indoors it runs on various IoT radio technologies that can be used to get devices to talk to each other as well as locate them. GPS-based services such as ridesharing are widespread on the market. Indoor positioning is a logical continuation, and in the next ten years it will become as common in everyday life as GPS navigation services are now.”
Ruiso says the advantage of the novel IoT technology is that whereas indoor positioning technologies are generally based on signal strength and work on Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or RFID, Eliko RTLS runs on a UWB-based positioning method that estimates the radio waves’ time of flight.
“Unlike other technologies, this can narrow down the location of an object to a matter of centimetres,” he says. “UWB also reduces interference from other wireless networks and enables stable coordinate-based precision even through obstacles. In addition, UWB has lower power consumption, and a small mobile device attached to the asset can run up to six months on one charge.“
An indoor positioning solution for demanding fields
The uses of the Eliko RTLS positioning system are even wider, Ruiso says, as it can easily be customized for different solutions. “Thanks to its high reliability and precision, the technology is suitable for use in areas that require rigour such as industry 4.0, logistics, manufacturing, sports, medicine and more. The system can be used to plan work and resources, as the real-time overview provides a decision-making dataset that most companies don’t have yet. For example, you can get the real-time system state of your goods, pallets, employees and machinery,“ said Ruiso.
In essence, the system represents the cornerstone of various “smart” applications on which you can build your own solution as needed. The speed of moving objects can be 40 km/h or more, as the small mobile tracking device can refresh its location up to 40 times a second. There can be hundreds of mobile devices in a single system.
The positioning system is based on static controllers that are fastened to walls to create the UWB radio network. A server is also part of the system – it computes the coordinates of the tracked objects and administers the devices in the system.
Future vision and new technologies
Pihlakas recommends a far-reaching vision when adopting new technologies: “Although we gained new knowledge from the first pilot project, such solutions must be viewed in the longer perspective. It’s likely there are questions we don’t know how to ask about everything the new technology enables. New technologies help implement your services better, and to do this, you first have to know your own capabilities.
In the next phase, the plan is to test combining GPS with indoor positioning to track baggage-handling vehicles smoothly throughout their trajectory – both indoors and outdoors. Whereas the system is well suited mainly for indoor conditions, it will be possible to resolve even this shortcoming in future.
“If we look at what is happening in tech today, we can’t rule out that the baggage-handling vehicles will be self-driving robot vehicles in the future. If we think even further into the future, it might be possible to order a baggage robot to your home, check in baggage and send it to the airport, and you could make your way to the airport with only your carry-on. At Tallinn Airport, we would be glad to develop and test such solutions,” said Pihlakas, urging his partners to meet this ambitious future challenge.
Eliko, a member of the Estonian Electronic Industries Association, has been developing IoT projects in the fields of industry 4.0, medicine, smart cities and other areas since 2004. Today, Eliko is focusing, above all, on highly accurate positioning and developing related technologies, combining its strong research and product development competency. Competency in this field encompasses knowledge and skills in the design and optimization of hardware components and radio parameters and protocols, development of specific algorithms and software development based on embedded systems. A full one-quarter of Eliko’s employees have a doctorate, and over the years the company’s team has received dozens of patents and published hundreds of journal articles.
Eliko’s clients and partners include top universities, prestigious international companies and promising start-ups around the world: Dimension Data, Hyundai Mobis, Prolexia, Carnegie Mellon University, Sydney University, Injeq and many more.