Chris Click and Tom Eagle from InnerWireless were kind enough to set up a conference call to update me on their new Spot indoor positioning system.

As they approach GA (that's "general availability" in vendor-speak),
InnerWireless has a total of 3 beta sites. Here's a quick run down:

  • St Lukes Hospital
    in Kansas City - this is an ED tracking application (both staff and patients) integrated via Pango to a McKesson application. Intel provided the project management and InnerWireless provides the infrastructure. The beta is live and working.
  • Comers Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago - this is a straight on asset tracking installation. The goals are to of course validate system works, and then convert asset over-buys into savings. This site is also up live and working.
  • Vasser Brothers Medical Center in
    Poughkeepsie, NY
    - This is a combo asset and patient tracking installation. They installed the infrastructure last September, and plan to go live in November.
    IBM is going to do workflow research to benchmark some of the dynamic
    processes in acute care delivery.

On the product front InnerWireless has been working to reduce tag size while maintaining a 3-5 year battery life (at a 1 minute or greater reporting frequency). A 5 second
reporting interval gives a 1 month battery life. At 1 minute and above, battery
life becomes more of a battery shelf life issue. The final production tags are sealed and sterilizable (gas autoclave or disinfectant wipe). Testing for temperature sterilization is underway, but not expected to be a product claim.

InnerWireless considers the beacon to be their big differentiator. The beacon is what communicates with the tags to gather data to determine location. The beacons use an 802.15.4 mesh network to communicate with the RTLS engine. They are battery powered and don't require either a wired network connection or a power outlet. They are what is euphemistically called "lick and stick." You can get more technical details from my interview with Alastair Westgarth, Senior VP Product Service Line Management here.

If an RTLS (real time location system) costs between 75cents to $1.00 per square foot, the InnerWireless Spot system would
be in the lower half of that cost range.

General Availability for Spot is planned for December 2006. Right now InnerWireless is focusing a
lot on their contract manufacturing because prospective customers are
looking for thousands of tags per site - that will require high
manufacturing volume from the get-go. Needless to say, InnerWireless is taking pre-orders and scheduling initial installations now. (I guess that's why the called me...)

At first thought, InnerWireless may seem late to the RFID party. I'm wondering if they've hit optimal timing. Pioneers like Radianse have built market awareness of RTLS solutions
along with their company - now the notion is pretty well established, early innovators have installed and it
appears the early majority of the market may be ready to adopt. As we enter the tornado phase (of market development (a Geoffrey Moore term), first-to-market will count for less than good execution in sales, installation and support.

While on the call, I asked Chris and Tom the biggest sales objections that they get from hospitals. The biggest objection is no surprise; it revolves around existing WiFi infrastructure. "We already have an infrastructure deployed, why not add software and tags and go?" is what they hear frequently. Hospitals assume there is an inherent cost savings by leveraging existing WiFi infrastructure - WiFi based RTLS vendors have effectively created that meme.

The second biggest sales objection is a resistance to tracking staff - this revolves around union's concerns (both real and anticipated), and staff's feelings of Big Brother and a resulting lack of privacy. Like the first objection, this one can be overcome with some explanation and education.

The most critical issue in selecting an RTLS is resolution or positional accuracy (besides cost). Quick and dirty zone level accuracy is fine for most asset tracking applications. But clinical applications like nurse call automation or alarm notification (you know, like- where is that ambulatory patient in VTAC?) require room level accuracy. Logistics applications for emergency and perioperative departments also require greater than zone level accuracy. Patient flow applications like Awarix and StatCom use position data to automate transactions and document workflow. I'm not saying you can't get better than zone level accuracy from a WiFi based RFID system, you can. But you certainly won't get it from a network with only passable coverage and access points thrown up every 100 meters.

InnerWireless makes a "room level" claim (95% assured) with Spot, and has done testing down to the 1 to 3 foot range. One of InnerWireless' greatest strengths is their in-building RF engineering expertise, taking in to account things like RF propagation through walls and objects (food carts, carts full of saline solution, etc.) found in a hospital. They've done their best to leverage that strength to create an indoor positioning system that delivers optimal accuracy - and maybe overcomes some of the inherent limitations in the 2.4 GHz band.

Pictured right is someone installing a "lick and stick" beacon.

DISCLOSURE: InnerWireless arranged the conference call that resulted in this post (and they provided the snazzy photo too - a real plus!). Since they're about to release their Spot system I thought the topic was newsworthy enough for the blog. I was not paid for this post, nor would I accept remuneration for any writing here. (I have thought about selling ads or sponsorships.)

I welcome calls and the occasional press release from any vendor or provider who'd like to chat about products, their experience and/or the industry. As long as the result is informative and newsworthy (and I have the time), it will most likely make it into a post. I assume that everything discussed is confidential unless it's
understood up front to be public; I'll ask permission if I want to
write a post about it.

This site gets between 300 and 400 visitors per day now, has over 200 people who subscribe to emails or RSS, and has an average visit length of between 2:30 and 3 minutes. And of course my readers are the smartest people in the industry.

UPDATE: Here's a technical article on ZigBee that might interest the rocket scientists out there (it's over my head). The story does raise the perennial IT system question about scalability - a topic I wish I'd asked about during my call with Tom and Chris. Perhaps someone can comment on that topic in respect to InnerWireless' Spot system specifically, and ZigBee in general.