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Micro-location technology

When every centimeter or even millimeter counts, only a new class of location technologies can deliver. Take a look at the options imec is exploring in the wireless RF and optical technology space.

From augmented reality to seamless interaction between robots and people in smart factories: the success of next-gen IoT applications will hinge on the ability of computer systems to pinpoint the location of objects in space.

The level of precision needed by these new applications lies far beyond the reach of technologies such as GPS or current commercial Bluetooth versions based on RSSI (Received Signal Strength Indicator). We need new approaches that not only achieve accuracy in orders of centimeters but are also:

  • fast
  • low-power
  • secure
  • affordable

A crucial point for micro-location technologies is security. To counter various forms of location spoofing or relay attacks, even advanced forms of cryptography fall short. What’s needed is a careful codesign of wireless technology and cryptographic features.

Imec is looking at different technologies to enable micro-location that meets these requirements, and welcomes new partners to join this pursuit.

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Micro-location through narrow-band technologies such as Bluetooth phase-based distance measurement

Bluetooth technology has been around for decades and is available on a wide selection of professional and consumer devices.

Because Bluetooth technology is so widely employed in industry, today it’s already used to roughly measure the distance between two or multiple devices. However, true micro-location applications are currently beyond the capabilities of Bluetooth technology, achieving at best only a few meters of accuracy using signal strength (RSSI) techniques. For new applications such as contactless payment and keyless entry, higher accuracy and secure distance measurement capabilities are needed.

Imec has further increased accuracy through novel algorithms that can enhance the accuracy to below 30 cm through phase-based distance measurements and smart signal processing.

Security Bluetooth

Imec’s accurate and secure localization solution based on Bluetooth reaches 30-cm accuracy.

New algorithms can also help to increase the security of Bluetooth location tracking against location spoofing and relay attacks. To mitigate those risks, imec’s researchers have developed a secure distance bounding protocol.

Explore imec’s Bluetooth offering

Micro-location through ultra-wide band technology

To further increase the accuracy to the cm-level and enable applications such as extremely precise distance measurement and AR/VR, ultra-wide band (UWB) could be the ultimate solution.

For a long time, UWB’s low energy efficiency seemed to impede its use for most applications. That problem has been solved mainly by recent hardware and software innovations that achieve a power consumption that’s up to ten times lower than that of current UWB solutions – and an accuracy below 10 cm, even in very challenging environments such as warehouses containing lots of metal objects.

Discover imec’s UWB technology

Moreover, by combining UWB with radar, next-gen micro-location could accurately assess both position and movement of any object. This could improve, for example, interaction in games and on the factory floor, where it’s useful to track where somebody is as well as what he’s doing.

Packaged 8GHz radar IC

Imec’s UWB transceiver chip

Micro-location through radar and lidar

Radar and lidar technologies can be used for passive micro-location applications – where the detected entity does not carry a tag or device. This can for instance be useful for medical applications such as micro-movements that indicate respiration, heart rate, ... Advances in RF architectures enable high-frequency (140 GHz), high-resolution and cost-effective CMOS radar solutions.

Check out imec’s radar technologies

Furthermore, optical distance measurements enable next-generation ultra-accurate micro-location use cases. Imec’s photonics technology integration paves the way from today’s bulky and high-cost implementations towards fully-integrated small form factors and low device costs.


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Do you need access to advanced micro-location technology for your application? Then imec can assist you through:

  1. design on demand – Count on our researchers and infrastructure for your custom R&D into micro-location technology.
  2. insight partnership – Get previews of our latest developments via regular concept and prototype demonstrations.
  3. whitebox silicon IP licensing and technology transfer – Tune our hardware and software IP to your needs, with support from our experts.

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