Ultra-wideband technology is used for indoor vehicle location09 de janeiro de 2018
By Suzel Tunes | FAPESP Research for Innovation – KartFly, an entertainment company located in Campinas, São Paulo State, Brazil, is developing new high-precision indoor vehicle location technology. The system is currently used in electric go-kart racing tracks, the firm’s specialty, but KartFly’s owners – engineers Fellipe Saldanha Garcia, Guilherme Mariottini Alves and Caê Castelli – are thinking ahead to additional applications of the technology, such as fleet management and industrial plant equipment tracking.
The project was developed with the support of FAPESP’s Innovative Research in Small Business Program (PIPE), and Stage 1 which required proof of concept, was completed in May 2017. According to principal investigator Saldanha, a prototype was produced and yielded results considered promising. “We succeeded in achieving a precision of 40 cm in this first stage, but our goal is to reach 20 cm,” he says.
He explains that the Global Positioning System (GPS), one of the most widely used vehicle location technologies, is only genuinely effective outdoors because it uses satellite signals, and the associated precision is approximately 2 m, which may be sufficient for drivers to identify the streets they are on but not for tracing go-karts or mobile equipment in industrial facilities.
KartFly’s researchers used ultra-wideband (UWB) technology, a radio technology capable of high indoor precision based on the algorithm developed. The main challenge in their research was creating a mathematical model to calculate location from radio signals that propagate at the speed of light.
“Go-karts are fitted with sensors that receive radio signals emitted from fixed reference points around the track,” Saldanha says. “The propagation time lag is used to calculate the distance between the vehicle and the antenna, and hence, its location on the track.”
Using radio is not just an advantage, however. It is also a problem that must be solved. “Radio signals propagate at about 300,000 km/s. Conventional clocks can’t measure them accurately, so the mathematical system has to cancel out the inaccuracies in order to obtain the correct location,” Saldanha explains.
Indoor tracking systems with 20-cm precision are commercially available, he adds, but not for go-kart speed. “When we surveyed existing indoor location systems, all the solutions we found were for slow object tracking, updating no faster than five times per second when more than one object is tracked. KartFly’s system has achieved 25 updates per second in testing and maintained this performance even while simultaneously tracking more than 100 objects. Our system was originally designed for go-kart speeds of 70 km/h but can be upgraded for speeds of up to 300 km/h,” he says.
Accurately locating each go-kart within centimeters as it hurtles around a race track plays a key role in KartFly’s business model. The firm plans to offer a new type of race that reproduces some properties of videogames in real life. “It will be possible to install sensors on the track that change the vehicle’s speed just as it passes them. So, for example, as it passes a point on the track with a sign saying ‘turbo’, its speed will be increased, and as it passes a sign saying ‘mud’, its speed will be reduced,” says Alves, the partner responsible for administration.
The firm set out to expand the potential business by creating an interactive experience in go-kart racing, he adds. Initially, the idea was to use the system on its own track and later expand the business via franchising and licensing the technology in the entertainment market, but participation in PIPE’s second high-tech entrepreneurship training program, which lasted seven weeks and ended in December 2016, broadened the outlook of KartFly’s owners. They are now seeking partners not just in entertainment but also in logistics. “The idea is to create a new business model, without excluding the old one,” Mariottini says. He expects the technology to be used in self-driving vehicles in the near future.
Adrenaline without pollution
The next step for the firm entails the establishment of commercial partnerships, after which they will upgrade the technology to expand the business. KartFly is currently improving its position in the entertainment industry: it owns the first electric go-kart track in Latin America and produces its own vehicles using knowledge acquired in research on batteries conducted by Saldanha since his master’s in electrical engineering at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP), where he studied between 2008 and 2010.
In 2012, Saldanha joined Mariottini and Castelli, who have degrees in chemical engineering from UNICAMP, to take part in the UNICAMP Technological Innovation Challenge, a business model competition held by Inova UNICAMP, the university’s incubator. The three engineers, who were soon to become partners, worked with food engineer Marina Sodini on the development of a business model based on a hybrid system for storing electric power, the subject of Saldanha’s 2011 research with support from PIPE. At that time, Saldanha had an electric vehicle technology firm called Ekion Tecnologia de Veículos Elétricos that was being incubated at UNICAMP.
The three friends developed the first electric go-kart almost for fun. “We decided to build a go-kart to run on the battery we used for our electric bikes,” Saldanha recalls. This was the birth of KartFly in 2013, with the mission to innovate in the entertainment segment by offering vehicles that produced neither polluting exhaust nor loud noise. According to Mariottini, there are some 100 electric go-kart tracks in the US and approximately 150 in Europe. The first Brazilian track was installed by KartFly in 2014 at a mall in Campinas.
Saldanha is currently in the UK, where he is following the firm’s progress at a distance. He has been invited to join the R&D department of an electronics firm. He remains a partner in KartFly and works as a consultant. Electrical engineer Marcos Ferretti is the lead researcher. While they seek applications for the location system in new ventures, the partners continue to invest in go-kart technology. “We’re now making smaller, slower go-karts that use less power and require less investment” Saldanha says. “These products are for children. They will be our main target, given the possibility of indoor locations and interactivity.”