WO2007104693A1 - Systems and methods for locating objects - Google Patents

Systems and methods for locating objects

Info

Publication number
WO2007104693A1
WO2007104693A1 PCT/EP2007/052170 EP2007052170W WO2007104693A1 WO 2007104693 A1 WO2007104693 A1 WO 2007104693A1 EP 2007052170 W EP2007052170 W EP 2007052170W WO 2007104693 A1 WO2007104693 A1 WO 2007104693A1
Authority
WO
Grant status
Application
Patent type
Prior art keywords
user
object
tag
reader
parameter
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/EP2007/052170
Other languages
French (fr)
Inventor
Gianluca Biotto
Monte Paolo Di
Fabio Mattiussi
Massimo Biotto
Rossana Mansutti
Alberto Bivi
Original Assignee
Universita' Degli Studi Di Udine
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date

Links

Classifications

    • GPHYSICS
    • G08SIGNALLING
    • G08BSIGNALLING OR CALLING SYSTEMS; ORDER TELEGRAPHS; ALARM SYSTEMS
    • G08B13/00Burglar, theft or intruder alarms
    • G08B13/02Mechanical actuation
    • G08B13/14Mechanical actuation by lifting or attempted removal of hand-portable articles
    • G08B13/1427Mechanical actuation by lifting or attempted removal of hand-portable articles with transmitter-receiver for distance detection
    • GPHYSICS
    • G08SIGNALLING
    • G08BSIGNALLING OR CALLING SYSTEMS; ORDER TELEGRAPHS; ALARM SYSTEMS
    • G08B21/00Alarms responsive to a single specified undesired or abnormal operating condition and not elsewhere provided for
    • G08B21/02Alarms for ensuring the safety of persons
    • G08B21/0202Child monitoring systems using a transmitter-receiver system carried by the parent and the child
    • G08B21/0227System arrangements with a plurality of child units
    • GPHYSICS
    • G08SIGNALLING
    • G08BSIGNALLING OR CALLING SYSTEMS; ORDER TELEGRAPHS; ALARM SYSTEMS
    • G08B21/00Alarms responsive to a single specified undesired or abnormal operating condition and not elsewhere provided for
    • G08B21/02Alarms for ensuring the safety of persons
    • G08B21/0202Child monitoring systems using a transmitter-receiver system carried by the parent and the child
    • G08B21/0275Electronic Article Surveillance [EAS] tag technology used for parent or child unit, e.g. same transmission technology, magnetic tag, RF tag, RFID
    • GPHYSICS
    • G08SIGNALLING
    • G08BSIGNALLING OR CALLING SYSTEMS; ORDER TELEGRAPHS; ALARM SYSTEMS
    • G08B21/00Alarms responsive to a single specified undesired or abnormal operating condition and not elsewhere provided for
    • G08B21/18Status alarms
    • G08B21/24Reminder alarms, e.g. anti-loss alarms

Abstract

Systems and methods for locating an object which offer a simple and effective way to monitor the distance of a plurality of objects from a user, being capable of adapting in real time to changes in the position of the user to activate different parameters which correspond to a different set of rules related to the distance of objects from the user when the user moves toward a new position. These objects can therefore be traced using radio frequency identification technology (RFID). If the active parameter is violated by an object exceeding a maximum distance from the user, the violation is notified to the user.

Description

SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR LOCATING OBJECTS Technical Field

The present invention relates in general to systems and methods for locating objects based on radio frequency identification (RFID). In particular, the present invention relates to a method wherein a plurality of parameters define the location of an object based on RFID, wherein the parameters vary depending on changes in the location of a user. Background Art

RFID radio frequency identification is a method for identifying wirelessly the location of devices by incorporating a series of RFID tags in the devices and scanning them by placing an RFID reader close to the RFID tags.

RFID tags can also be used to obtain data associated with devices stored within the RFID tags. The RFID tag is small and relatively inexpensive and can be integrated in, or attached to, any device.

Accordingly, a common use of RFID tags is to incorporate them in a large number of devices spread over a distance; a person then approaches physically the RFID tags with an RFID reader.

When the RFID reader has passed within a short distance of an RFID tag, the reader is able to obtain the information contained within the RFID tag, such as its position, status, or data collected by the device.

This has a practical application, for example, in a sorting center, where a worker with an RFID reader can walk from one container to another and scan the RFID tags in the containers to record their location or track their contents.

Therefore, a worker with an RFID reader can scan devices with RFID tags and store their location in a database in order to record the location of the devices.

In certain situations it is desirable to know the location of two objects one with respect to the other. This can be achieved with RFID technology. It is also possible to use RFID technology to warn a person of a situation in which two devices are physically located too far from each other.

For example, if there is a product which is assembled with several components, it might be advantageous to locate two particular components very close to each other in order to facilitate the manufacturing process or the flow of goods.

RFID technology can monitor the position of these objects and warn a worker if they are too far from each other. In all of these applications, monitoring of the device occurs in a fixed environment.

However, these RFID systems are unable to adapt robustly to situations which require automatic monitoring of the position of objects with respect to each other based on the position of the person who is carrying the RFID monitor.

Existing RFID technology does not have a multilevel structure which can be adapted to provide different device positioning requirements based on a change in the generic neighborhood of the RFID reader.

RFID systems can generally report whether two devices exceed a minimum mutual distance but are unsuitable to change automatically these position conditions on the basis of a change in the neighborhood.

For example, an RFID system might require a prison guard, equipped with an RFID reader attached to his/her uniform, to be always located within 50 centimeters of his/her gun, which comprises an RFID tag. If the prison guard is located further than this distance from his/her gun, the RFID reader indicates this and might notify the prison guard or another person.

However, this system is unable to automatically make an exception to this rule. This exception might be that the security guard must remain within 50 centimeters of his/her gun unless he/she is inside the cell of a prisoner, where a prison guard is not allowed to carry the gun.

In existing systems, if the prison guard stores the gun appropriately before entering the cell, the RFID reader would have to be deactivated, or an alarm would have to sound when the prison guard enters the cell without the gun.

In existing systems, this real-time adaptation of preselected rules to a change in the position of the person associated with an RFID reader is not possible. Disclosure of the Invention

The aim of the present invention is to solve the described problems, eliminating the drawbacks of the cited background art, by providing systems and methods for monitoring objects which can be adapted and respond to a change in the position of users in real time without requiring the deactivation or replacement of an RFID reader.

Within this aim, and in order to meet these requirements, an object of the present invention is to provide systems and methods for locating at least one object.

This is achieved generally by using object location based on RFID. In order to increase efficiency and reduce cost, these systems and methods provide real-time switching among a plurality of parameters, based on a change in a user position.

Further, the parameters are capable of providing different conditions related to the position of a plurality of objects with RFID tags with respect to each other, wherein these parameters change on the basis of the position of a user with an RFID reader.

This improves the robustness and adaptability of RFID object monitoring.

This aim and this and other objects which will become better apparent hereinafter are achieved by a method for locating at least one object, which comprises: associating at least one object with at least one object tag; defining at least one parameter based on the position of a user and the distance between the user and at least one object, wherein each parameter sets a maximum allowable distance between the user and said at least one object on the basis of the position of the user, wherein the user is associated with a user reader and with a user tag; associating said at least one parameter with at least one of a plurality of master readers; scanning, by means of at least one of the master readers, the user tag to detect a change in the position of the user; activating at least one of the parameters at least partly on the basis of the change detected in the position of the user; scanning, by means of the user reader, at least one object tag in order to locate the distance of at least one object from the user in order to determine whether said at least one activated parameter is met; following the sensing of a violation of said at least one activated parameter, notifying to the user a violation of said at least one activated parameter, the violation being caused at least partly by said at least one object which exceeds the maximum allowable distance between said at least one object and the user.

This aim and this and other objects are achieved also by a system for locating at least one object, which comprises: at least one object associated with at least one object tag, at least one parameter which is defined on the basis of the position of a user and the distance between the user and at least one object, wherein each parameter sets a maximum allowable distance between the user and said at least one object on the basis of the position of the user, where the user is associated with a user tag and a user reader; a plurality of master readers, each master reader being associated with at least one parameter; at least one of the master readers scanning the user tag to detect a change in the position of the user and activate at least one of the parameters according to the detected change; the user reader scanning said at least one object tag in order to track the distance of at least one object from the user in order to determine whether said at least one activated parameter is met; the user reader identifying a violation of said at least one activated parameter caused at least partly by said at least one object exceeding the maximum allowable distance between the user and said at least one object, the user reader assisting in notifying the violation to the user.

In some embodiments, the objects might include wallets, keys, purses, identity documents such as a driving license or passport, a camera or a portable music player. Further, the object tags and the user tags can comprise radio frequency identification tags (RFID) and the user reader and the master reader can include RFID scanners.

Moreover, the user readers and the user tags can be incorporated in a portable telephone and the user can be notified of a violation of an activated parameter by means of a communication toward a portable telephone.

The aim and objects of the present invention are achieved by the methods and systems according to independent claim 1 and any other independent claim of the present invention.

Further details can be found in the remaining dependent claims.

In the exemplary embodiments that follow, individual characteristics, given in relation to specific examples, may actually be interchanged with other different characteristics that exist in other exemplary embodiments.

Moreover, it is noted that anything found to be already known during the patenting process is understood not to be claimed and to be the subject of a disclaimer.

Brief description of the Drawings Further characteristics and advantages of the present invention will become better apparent from the following detailed description of various embodiments, illustrated by way of non-limiting example in the accompanying drawings, wherein:

Figure 1 is a flowchart of a method for tracking at least one object according to an embodiment of the invention; Figure 2 is a block diagram of a system for tracking at least one object according to an embodiment of the invention;

Figure 3 is a flowchart of a method for determining whether an active parameter is violated according to an embodiment of the invention. Ways of carrying out the Invention

As shown in the drawings by way of example, the invention can be incorporated within systems and methods for tracking objects.

These systems and methods allow real-time activation of at least one of a plurality of parameters on the basis of the position of a user equipped with a reader, such as an RFID scanner.

Embodiments of the invention allow to locate increases or decreases in the distance between at least two objects with tags, or at least one object with tag and a user, and notify to the user a violation of an active parameter.

The object with tags can include RFID tags. Briefly, Figure 1 is a flow chart which illustrates a method 100 for tracking at least one object according to an embodiment of the invention.

The first step in the method 100 is the association of at least one object with at least one object tag (step 105).

In general, this association (step 105) can include any link or connection between the object and the object tag.

For example, the object tag might be fixed to the object or integrated therein. In other cases, the object tag might be physically attached on the inside or on the outside of the object or be fixed in a separate position but in the vicinity of the object. The object tag can be attached reversibly to the object, so that it can be repeatedly attached to the object and removed from it.

The method 100 generally proceeds by defining at least one parameter (step 1 10). A parameter generally includes a set of rules.

In a typical embodiment, the parameters can be based on the position of a user and on the distance between the user and at least one object. Further, each parameter can be defined in order to set a maximum allowable distance between a user and at least one object.

This can be based on the position of the user. For example, a parameter can be defined so that the object X must remain within 1 meter of the user, after the user has left a building, such as the user's home.

Generally, a plurality of parameters is defined, each parameter comprising at least one of a set of measurable factors which define a system or a method.

After associating objects with object tags (step 105) and after defining at least one parameter (step 110), the method 100 then typically associates each defined parameter with at least one master reader (step 115).

A master reader can be an RFID scanner or an RFID reader, which are typically stationary. In various embodiments, a single parameter can be associated with a plurality of master readers, and as an alternative several parameters can be associated with a single master reader.

It is further possible to associate all the parameters with all the master readers. Associating the parameters with the master readers (step 115) can comprise storing the contents of the parameters in the memory associated with the master readers. As an alternative, the set of rules defined by the parameters can be stored remotely in such a way that it can be accessed by the master readers.

In general, the master readers are associated with the parameters so that the master readers can access and activate any associated parameter when necessary. Typically, the next step is to detect a change in the position of the user (step 120).

In some embodiments, it is the master reader that initially detects a change in user position (step 120).

For example, a master reader can detect a user with a user tag who is passing close to a fixed master reader located between one location, for example in a building, and another location, for example outside the building.

In this example, the master reader can be located proximate to the exit of the building, so that it scans anything that passes through the exit for the existence of the user tag.

In response to the sensing, by a master reader, of a change in the user position (step 120), the master reader can then activate at least one of the parameters associated with that master reader (step 125).

In various embodiments, the activation step (step 125) can activate one or more parameters. Typically, the parameters that are activated are the ones associated with the master reader that detected the change in the position of the user.

In certain cases, the activation of one or more parameters (step 125) can be due only to the change detected in the position of the user (step 120). In other embodiments, the change in the position of the user can be only one factor in activating one or more parameters (step 125).

Examples of additional factors can comprise the day, time of day, or day of the week when the change in the position of the user is detected.

Once the appropriate parameter or parameters is/are activated, the method 100 can track the distance between at least one of the objects and the user (step 130). In general, this tracking is obtained by scanning, with a user reader associated with the user, at least one object tag in order to track the distance between the user and the object associated with the object tag.

Typically, the user carries the user reader on or close to his/her body. For example, the user reader can be a mobile telephone that the user is carrying, and the object can be the wallet of the user which incorporates an object tag.

In an exemplary embodiment, the active parameter can be defined in order to declare that the object X must remain within 1 meter of the user. If this parameter is active, then the user reader tracks the object X. If the object X is then determined to be further than 1 meter from the user, the method 100 detects this violation (step 135).

In certain embodiments, this violation can be detected (step 135) because the user reader has a maximum scanning interval of 1 meter, and if the object X fails to respond to the scan requests, it is assumed to be more than 1 meter away from the user and therefore in violation of the active parameter.

As an alternative, the user reader can have a range of 3 meters and can receive a response from the object tag associated with the object X which indicates that the object X is 2 meters away from the user.

In this example, this might also be interpreted as a violation of the active parameter, because the limit of 1 meter has been exceeded.

After detecting a violation (step 130), the method 100 generally proceeds to notify this violation to the user (step 140). In general, any method which makes the user aware of a violation of an active parameter is a sufficient notification. For example, the user reader might be able to activate a mobile phone of the user and display a message which indicates that the object X is out of range.

The user reader might vibrate or display a similar message, or the user might be warned by e-mail, pager or personal digital assistant.

Figure 2 is a block diagram which illustrates a system 200 for tracking at least one object according to an embodiment of the invention. The system 200 comprises generally at least one object 205 associated with at least one object tag 210. In certain embodiments, there might be only one object 205 and only one object tag 210, but generally there is a plurality of objects 205 and object tags 210.

Typically, one object tag 210 is associated with one object 205, although in some cases there might be a plurality of objects 205 associated with a single object tag 210. Vice versa, there might be one object 205 associated with a plurality of object tags 210. The object 205 can be defined in general as including any physical entity.

For example, the object 205 can include a wallet, car keys, a purse, any identity document such as a driving license, passport or national identity identity card, a camera, a portable music player, such as an MP3 reader, or a portable videogame player.

The object 205 can comprise a car or other vehicle. The object 205 can comprise a human being or an animal, such as a pet or livestock.

The object 205 can also be more industrial in nature, such as transport containers, product components, or spare parts.

The object 205 can be fixed, semi- stationary, or portable. An example of a fixed object 205 might be an oil well or a security checkpoint.

A semi- stationary object 205 might be a large freight container, which can be moved only with the aid of industrial equipment, such as a forklift truck or a crane.

A portable object 205 might be a wallet or anything that can be carried on or close to the body of the user.

An object can include any physical entity capable of being associated with an object tag. The object tag 210 generally comprises a radio frequency identification tag (RFID).

An RFID tag contains generally a logic circuit in the form of a silicon chip and an antenna which enables the RFID tag to receive and respond to radio frequency requests from an RFID scanner, which can also be termed RFID transceiver or RFID reader.

The object tags 210 can comprise RFID tags which are passive, active, or semi-passive. A passive RFID tag does not require an internal power supply and therefore is small, lightweight and cheap and has an unlimited life. In general, the electric current generated by an RFID scanner is sufficient to power the silicon chip in the object tag 210 so that it can transmit a reply.

This reply is generally transmitted by returning wirelessly the signal from the RFID scanner. In an embodiment in which the object tag 210 comprises an RFID tag, this return radiation is detected by the RFID scanner and the logic system associated with the RFID scanner can determine the distance between the RFID scanner and the RFID tag.

As an alternative, the object tag 210 can comprise any other tag, passive identifier, or indicator which is capable of notifying its position. The object tag 210 generally comprises a transponder with a digital memory chip to which a unique electronic product code is assigned.

In various embodiments, it is possible to read and write data from or to the object tags 210.

The object tags 210 can operate at a variety of radio frequencies. In some embodiments, the object tags 210 can operate at low frequency (for example 125 or 134.2 kHz), high frequency (for example 13.56 MHz), ultrahigh frequency (for example 436 MHz or from 868 to 956 MHz), or microwave frequency (for example 2.45 GHz or 5.8 GHz).

The object 205 and the object tag 210 can be associated with each other in various manners. For example, the object tag 210 can be integral with, or incorporated within, the object 205.

As an alternative, the object tag 210 can be positioned on, inside, or close to the object 205 and the object tag 210 can be attached physically to the object 205. Further, the object tag 210 can be separate from, but in the vicinity of, the object 205, and the object tag 210 can be attached reversibly to the object 205, so that the object tag 210 can be repeatedly removed from and reattached to the object 205.

The system 200 typically also comprises parameters 215. A parameter is generally defined as a set of measurable variables which define a system or method. In various embodiments, there can be one or more parameters

215.

The parameter 215 is generally a set of rules for a particular situation.

The parameters 215 can be set by a user or can be predefined. The parameters 215 are stored generally in an electronic memory.

Typically, one or more parameters 215 can be defined as an active parameter (not shown). The active parameter is the parameter that generally requires real-time verification that the objects 205 are in accordance with the rules of the active parameter. In the embodiments that contain a plurality of parameters 215, typically a maximum of one parameter is active at every given instant; in any case, it is possible for a plurality of parameters 215 to be active simultaneously.

The parameters 215 generally define the maximum allowable distance between two objects 205 or between at least one object 205 and a user 220.

For example, the parameter 215 can be defined by a set of rules or conditions according to which the object X must be within 1 meter of the user 220 and the object Y must be within 1.5 meters of the user 220.

The parameters 215 can also vary according to the position of the user 220. For example, the parameter 215 can be defined by a set of rules which define that the objects X and Z must lie within 2 meters of the user 220 when the user 220 is within a particular building.

Further, the parameters 215 can vary in complexity. For example, the parameter 215 can be defined so that the object X must remain within 0.5 meters of the user 220, unless that person is in his/her own home, and in this case the object X has no rule for maximum allowable distance between the object X and the user 220 but instead the object Y must stay within 7 meters of the user 220.

In general, there is no limit to the number of objects 205 or positions of the user 220 that can form the basis of the parameters 215. The user 220 can be human, but in various embodiments the user 220 can also be an animal, a robot, or a piece of equipment, such as a tractor, a car or another vehicle.

Generally, the user 220 is the focus around which the distance limitations of the objects 205 are set in the parameters 215.

When the user 220 is in different physical locations, it might be desirable for the user 220 to ensure that various objects 205 are within a certain distance of the user 220. For example, when the user 220 is in a car

(one position), then a parameter might require the driving license of the user to be within 1 meter of the user 220.

In any case, when the user 220 is in his/her own home (a different position), it might not be necessary for the user 220 to be in such close vicinity to his driving license.

Therefore, when he/she is at home, a different parameter might be defined in order to require only that the user 220 be within 10 meters of his/her cordless land-line telephone.

The systems and methods of the present invention allow real-time changes of the active parameters so that the appropriate objects 205 are tracked according to the position of the user 220. A characteristic of the invention shown in the system 200 is that the user 220 comprises in general both a user tag 225 and a user reader 230.

In a typical embodiment, the user tag 225 comprises an RFID tag and the reader 230 comprises an RFID scanner, also known as RFID reader or RFID transceiver. In certain embodiments, the user tag 225 and the user reader 230 can be integrated within the same physical device. In other examples they might be separate devices.

Typically, the user reader 230 and the user tag 225 are comprised on or around the body of the user 220. There are many ways in which the user tag 220 can be associated with the user 220. For example, the user tag 225 can be incorporated within an item of clothing worn by the user 220, such as a jacket or a particular uniform that the user 220 must wear.

In certain embodiments, the user tag 225 might be incorporated beneath the skin of the user 220.

As an alternative, the user tag 225 can be arranged in a pocket of the item of clothing worn by the user 220 or in the wallet or purse carried by the user 220.

Moreover, the user tag 225 can be attached or built into a portable telephone of the user 220.

In general, the user tag 225 acts in the same manner as the object tags 210 and in certain embodiments the user tag 225 can be considered as one of the object tags 210 that have been designated to correspond to the user 220. In one embodiment, the user tag 220 and the object tags 210 can be identical in every respect, except that the user tag 225 is associated with the user 220 and the object tags 210 are associated with the objects 205. The user tags 225, as well as the object tags 210, are generally capable of transmitting data which supply identification or position information, or other specific information on the object with tag 205 or on the user 220.

The user reader 230 is associated generally with the user 200 in a similar manner.

The user reader 230 can be a portable device, which the user 220 activates with a positive action, such as for example by pressing a button on the user reader 230.

As an alternative, the user reader 230 can be a device which is always active and no positive action is required for the user reader 230 to transmit a signal and determine whether the object tag 210 or the user tag 225 has responded to the signal or not. When the object tags 210 pass within the range of the user reader 230, the object tags 210 detect the signal and transmit the data stored in their integrated circuit or silicon chip.

The system 200 also comprises at least one location 235.

Typically, the location 235 can comprise any physical or geographical location through which the user 220 can pass. For example, the location 235 can comprise a house.

Likewise, the location 235 can include any other structure, such as a particular building.

The location 235 can be a car or any other motor vehicle, and the location 235 can include an enclosed or defined space.

The location 235 can also be defined with respect to another location 235. For example, the location 235 can be defined as "outside the house of the user 220".

In this exemplary embodiment, a first location 235 can be the home of the user 220 and a second location 235 can comprise any place in the world except for the home 235 of the user.

In general, there can be an unlimited number of locations 235.

Several locations 235 can be mutually adjacent and in some cases can overlap. In some embodiments, several locations can be physically separate from each other with no adjacent or overlapping portion.

The system 200 also typically comprises at least one master reader 240. The master reader 240 is generally similar to the user reader 230.

The master reader 240 can comprise an RFID scanner, which can operate identically to the user reader 230. A general difference between the master reader 240 and the user reader 230 is that the master reader 240 is arranged typically in a fixed location which lies close to the exit of a location through which it is likely that the user 220 will pass in order to move from one location 235 to another location 235. Further, the master reader 230 is designed generally to scan for the presence of a user tag 225 (not an object tag 210) within the electromagnetic range covered by each master reader 240, which is generally in the range of tens of meters.

On the contrary, the user reader 230 moves together with the user 220 and the user reader 230 is generally programmed to scan the object tags 210.

The master reader 240 generally assists in defining the entrance and exit points of the locations 235. Typically, one or more master readers 240 are associated with a single location 235.

In certain embodiments, a single master reader 240 can be located in a common region or a region which connects several locations 235 and can thus be associated with several locations 235.

In the exemplary embodiment in which the location 235 is a home, a plurality of master readers 240 can be located close to all the exits of the home, so that the electromagnetic range covered by the master readers 240 covers completely all the passages and other exits of the home.

Therefore, when the user 220 (associated with the user tag 225) leaves home, the master reader 240 detects the movement of the user 220 out of his home in a different location 235.

Further, each master reader 240 is generally capable of tracking the direction of a movement of the user tag 225 and therefore determine whether the user 220 is entering or leaving the location 235.

In various embodiments, the master readers 240 can be arranged at the entrances of any vehicle, building, park or other structure with definite entrance and exit points. The master readers 240 are associated generally with parameters 215.

As mentioned earlier, the parameter 215 comprises a set of rules which generally relates to the position of the objects 205 relative to the user 220 and depending on the location 235 in which the user 220 is currently located. Following detection by the master reader 240 that the user 220 is entering or leaving the location 235, the master reader 240 activates, or assists in the activation, of its associated parameters 215.

In some embodiments, the master reader 240 can comprise a processor capable of activating the associated parameter 215 and of informing the user reader 230 that a particular parameter 215 is active.

In other embodiments, the master reader 240 transmits information related to the position 235 of the user 220 over a network 245 toward a computer 250.

The network 245 can be any network, such as a local area network, a wide area network, the Internet, a telephone network such as a mobile global communications system (GSM) network.

In some embodiments, the computer 250 receives the information transmitted by the master reader 240, processes it with a processor, and transmits the data over the network 245 toward the user reader 230. Typically, the transmitted data specify which of the plurality of parameters 215 is active. In various embodiments, the computer 250 can transmit the information that identifies which parameter is active, or the computer 250 can transmit the rules associated with said active parameter.

In certain embodiments, the user reader 230 comprises a memory which stores all the parameters 215.

In this example, since the user reader 230 already has all the parameter information 215, the computer 250 only needs to report to the user scanner 230 which parameter 215 must be activated.

In an exemplary alternative embodiment in which the user reader 230 has not stored the parameter information 215, the computer 250 must generally transmit the contents of the parameter 215 and a directive which instructs the user reader 230 to activate this parameter.

In some embodiments, the user reader 230 can decode the data coded in the integrated circuit (silicon chip) of the object tags 210 or of the user tag 225, and these data can be passed to the computer 250. The computer 250 can thus process the data to determine whether the activated parameter 215 has been met or whether the position of the user 220 has changed.

If the computer 250 determines that the location of the user 220 has changed, the computer 250 can activate the appropriate parameter 215.

If the computer 250 determines that one of the rules of the currently active parameter has been violated, the computer 250 may notify the user 220 of the violation.

In various embodiments, the computer 250 can use the physical markup language (PML) to process the received data, although any computer programming language can be used.

Generally, the user reader 230, which is typically on or close to the body of the user 220, periodically scans within its range for the existence of objects 205 which are required to be within a certain proximity with respect to the user 220 in accordance with the active parameter.

If the requirements of the active parameter are met, the user reader 230 rebroadcasts continuously and periodically its signal, which searches for the existence of the object tags 210 in order to determine whether the objects remain within the appropriate distance from the user 220. In some embodiments, the distance from the user 220 toward the object 205 can be defined as the distance from the user reader 230 to the object tags 210, because the user reader 230 is generally located proximate to the user 220 and the object tags 210 are generally located close to the objects 205. A violation is detected generally by the user reader 230 when an object 205 is out of the range defined by the active parameter.

This can occur when the object tag 210 does not respond to a request from the user reader 230. As an alternative, the object tag 210 can respond but can exceed the maximum allowable distance between the user 220 and the object 205 defined in the active parameter or parameters. In order to avoid false alarms, in some embodiments the user reader 230 can be programmed to request numerous consecutive scans which indicate that a chosen object 205 exceeds the maximum allowable distance defined in the active parameter. After the user reader 230 has identified a violation of an active parameter, the user reader 230 generally notifies the violation to the user 220.

In one embodiment, the user reader 230 can notify directly the violation to the user 220. For example, the user reader 230 can emit a sound, vibrate, light up, or display a message indicating that one or more objects 205 are out of the range defined in the active parameter.

For example, the user reader can display a message which says something generally with the meaning of "your wallet is more than one meter away from you" in a situation in which the active parameter required the wallet of the user, i.e. one of the objects 205, to be one meter or less away from the user 220, since the user 220 is in a position 235 that is defined as "out of the user's home".

In an alternative embodiment, the user reader 230 can direct a communication to another device in order to warn the user of the violation. For example, the user reader 230 might transmit a signal over the network 245 to a mobile telephone, a land-line telephone, e-mail, pager, personal digital assistant, or other device which can be accessed by the user 220.

In yet another embodiment, the user reader 230 can transmit the results of its periodic scans over the network 245 to the computer 250.

In this example, the computer 250 can therefore process these received data and it is the computer 250 which determines whether a violation of the active parameter has occurred.

If the computer 250 determines that a violation has occurred, the computer 250 therefore notifies to the user 220 the violation, generally by transmitting a signal over the network 245.

Continuing with this example, this transmitted signal can be received by the user reader 230 or by other devices listed above, such as a mobile telephone which the user can access to be warned of the violation. In various embodiments, if the object tag 210 does not respond, it can be considered to be in violation of the active parameter.

Sometimes the object tag 210 can be required not to respond to a plurality of requests before assuming that it is violating the active parameter. In any case, once it has been determined that a violation has occurred, it is generally notified to the user 220. In an exemplary embodiment, if a missing object tag 210 responds and is within the maximum allowable range from the user 220, said maximum allowable range being set by the active parameter, the user 220 is notified that the associated object 205 is now compliant with the active parameter.

Another characteristic of the system 200 is that the user reader 230 can track the direction of the movement of the object 205. In some embodiments, if the user reader 230 determines that the object 205 is approaching the maximum allowable distance from the user 220, the user reader 230 can increase the frequency with which it searches for the existence of the object 205.

As an alternative, if the object 205 is approaching the user 220, the scanning cycle can be slowed down to allow a smaller number of scans per second, per minute, or per hour, for example. Likewise, if the master reader 240 detects the user tag 225 in an area which is close to the exit or entrance of one of the locations 235, the master reader can increase or decrease the frequency of its periodic cycles.

The systems and methods according to the present invention can also incorporate encryption technologies in order to ensure that the object tags 210 communicate only their identification information to an authorized user reader 230.

In certain embodiments, this can be achieved with encryption systems and methods with a public key and a private key. In general, this allows secure communication between the object tags 210 and the user reader 230, and between the master readers 240 and the user tag 225, in which the public key is known publicly, but the private key is known only to the recipient of a transmission, such as the object tags 210 or the user reader 230.

Other security characteristics which involve personal identification number (PIN) technologies can also be implemented in order to authenticate or secure the object tags 210 and the tags 225 against unauthorized scanning.

Once it has been instructed to activate a particular parameter 215, the user reader 230 can proceed with the embodiment shown in Figure 3, which details in general the scanning cycle of the user reader 230 to determine whether the active parameter is violated. In summary, Figure 3 is a flowchart of a method 300 for determining whether an active parameter is violated according to an embodiment of the invention.

In the exemplary embodiment provided by the method 300, after activating the appropriate parameters (step 125), the user reader transmits a request (step 305).

This transmission or scan can be in the form of an RFID electromagnetic scan. The transmitted signal can be considered as an activation signal, which generally activates all the object tags in the range, and the object tags thus respond to the request (step 310).

However, some object tags which are not connected and are not related to the embodiment of the method 300 might respond. Moreover, it is necessary to determine the unique identity of the responding tags.

For example, if the active parameter requires the tracking of a wallet and of the car keys, it is generally necessary to identify the object tags that correspond to these objects.

Therefore, it is typically necessary to identify the objects in order to determine whether they belong to the group of objects that are tracked (step 315). This can be achieved in certain embodiments, in which the object tags are RFID tags which include the ability to store a unique code and transmit this code to a user reader, such as an RFID scanner like the master reader or the user reader.

This unique code can identify the object associated with the object tag or the user associated with the user tag.

Once the objects have been identified, the method 300 then detects a violation of an active parameter (step 135) and notifies to the user the violation (step 140) in the manner described above.

If the results of the scan indicate that the requirements of the parameter have been met, the user reader transmits another request (step 305) and the process is repeated.

In some cases, there can be a time delay before retransmission, which can vary from milliseconds to several hours between transmission cycles (i.e., scanning cycles). From what has been said, it can be appreciated that the systems and methods for locating objects provided by the invention offer a simple and effective manner to monitor a variety of objects related to a user.

The systems and methods according to the embodiments of the invention are capable of adapting in real time to changes in the position of the user to activate different parameters which correspond to a different set of rules which relate to the distance of objects related to the user when the user moves toward a new position.

This increases efficiency and provides a robust solution to the monitoring of objects in a plurality of circumstances. A person skilled in the art will realize that the invention can be integrated into other specific embodiments without abandoning the spirit or the essential characteristics thereof.

These embodiments, therefore, must be considered as examples in all their aspects rather than limiting the invention described here. The scope of the invention is therefore indicated by the appended claims, rather than by the above description, and all the changes that fall within the meaning and range of equivalence of the claims are therefore understood to fall within them.

The disclosures in Italian Patent Application No. TV2006A000040 from which this application claims priority are incorporated herein by reference.

Claims

1. A method for locating at least one object, comprising the steps of: associating at least one object with at least one object tag; defining at least one parameter based on the position of a user and the distance between the user and at least one object, wherein each parameter sets a maximum allowable distance between the user and said at least one object on the basis of the position of the user, wherein the user is associated with a user reader and with a user tag; associating said at least one parameter with at least one of a plurality of master readers ; scanning, by means of at least one of the master readers, the user tag to detect a change in the position of the user; activating at least one of the parameters at least partly on the basis of the change detected in the position of the user; reading, by means of the user reader, at least one object tag in order to track the distance of at least one object from the user in order to determine whether said at least one activated parameter is met; and following the sensing of a violation of said at least one activated parameter, notifying to the user a violation of said at least one activated parameter, the violation being caused at least partly by said at least one object which exceeds the maximum allowable distance between said at least one object and the user.
2. The method according to claim 1, wherein said at least one object is selected from the group that consists of a portable telephone, a wallet, a key, a purse, an identity document, a camera and a portable music player.
3. The method according to claim 1, wherein said at least one object tag comprises a radio frequency identification tag.
4. The method according to claim 1, wherein the user tag comprises a radio frequency identification tag.
5. The method according to claim 1, wherein said at least one master reader comprises a radio frequency identification scanner.
6. The method according to claim 1, wherein the user reader comprises a radio frequency identification scanner.
7. The method according to claim 1, wherein each object tag is physically connected to an object.
8. The method according to claim 1 , wherein sensing a change in the location of the user comprises sensing the user leaving a building.
9. The method according to claim 1, wherein the user reader is comprised within a mobile telephone carried by the user.
10. The method according to claim 1, wherein the user tag is comprised in a mobile telephone carried by the user.
11. The method according to claim 1 , wherein notifying the user of the violation of an active parameter comprises transmitting a message to a mobile telephone carried by the user.
12. A system for locating at least one object, comprising: at least one object associated with at least one object tag; at least one parameter which is defined on the basis of the position of a user and of the distance between the user and at least one object, wherein each parameter sets a maximum allowable distance between the user and said at least one object according to the position of the user, wherein the user is associated with a user tag and a user reader; a plurality of master readers, each master reader being associated with at least one parameter; at least one of the master readers examining the user tag to detect a change in the position of the user and activate at least one of the parameters according to the detected change; the user reader examining said at least one object tag in order to track the distance of said at least one object from the user to determine whether said at least one activated parameter is met; and the user reader identifying a violation of said at least one activated parameter which is caused at least partly by said at least one object exceeding the maximum allowable distance between the user and said at least one object, the user reader assisting it in notifying the violation to the user.
13. The system according to claim 12, wherein said at least one object is selected from the group that consists of a mobile telephone, a wallet, a key, a purse, an identity document, a camera and a portable music player.
14. The system according to claim 12, wherein said at least one object tag comprises a radio frequency identification tag.
15. The system according to claim 12, wherein the user tag comprises a radio frequency identification tag.
16. The system according to claim 12, wherein said at least one master reader comprises a radio frequency identification scanner.
17. The system according to claim 12, wherein the user reader comprises a radio frequency identification scanner.
18. The system according to claim 12, wherein each object tag is connected physically to an object.
19. The system according to claim 12, wherein the change in the position of the user comprises the user leaving a building.
20. The system according to claim 12, wherein the user tag is comprised within a mobile telephone carried by the user.
21. The system according to claim 12, wherein the user reader is comprised in a mobile telephone carried by the user.
22. The system according to claim 12, wherein the processor notifies to the user the violation by transmitting a message to a mobile telephone carried by the user.
PCT/EP2007/052170 2006-03-16 2007-03-08 Systems and methods for locating objects WO2007104693A1 (en)

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