Engineers tweak ultra-wideband tech for real-time 3D motion capture

Electrical engineers from the University of California San Diego have improved on a wireless communication technology called ultra-wideband (UWB). UWB is a technology that has been around for a long time and has begun to gain popularity in recent years thanks to improved accuracy compared to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth when it comes to determining the location and movement of devices. The technology might also allow for improvements like indoor navigation and smart warehouses that know where employees and inventory are at all times.

One of the more interesting things that the engineers believe UWB can do is real-time 3D motion capture for virtual reality or sports analytics. To enable those features, current UWB technology has to be improved. The improvements needed are increased operating speed, the ability to operate at lower power levels, and improved high accuracy 3D localization.

The researchers developed a prototype UWB system meeting the needed criteria. It has a communications latency of only one millisecond and is so miserly with power that it can run for more than two years using a coin cell battery. The new device they developed can also provide precise 3D location information within three centimeters for stationary objects and eight centimeters for objects in motion.

The new system is called Uloc and is a fundamental change for processes used by traditional UWB systems for object location. Traditional UWB systems feature two main components, including a small tracking device known as a tag and devices called anchors. The tag is connected to the object you want to track while the anchors are installed at locations in the environment, allowing detection of radio signals from the tag.

To simplify the process used by typical UWB systems, the researchers updated ULoc so their system only needs to send a single signal to all the anchors rather than sending a separate signal to every anchor and every anchor returning that signal to the tag. That change significantly reduces power consumption and makes the system faster and scalable. Currently, the researchers are working to build an end-to-end motion capture system for multiple applications and are searching for industrial partners.