Imec, the research and innovation hub, has developed a new secure proximity technology that enables an accuracy as good as 30 centimeters (cm).

Developed by imec researchers in Holst Centre (the Netherlands) and researchers from COSIC, an imec lab at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven), it's claimed that this new technology sets a new benchmark in localisation accuracy using a standard Bluetooth radio.

According to researchers it will pave the way to increased data security in intuitive smart environments such as buildings, cars and cities.

At present, localisation solutions use signal strength that limits the accuracy to 3-5 meters (m). This accuracy can only support 'relaxed' use-cases, such as proximity marketing in retail centres or rough positioning of objects.

Until now accurate localisation and high security could only be achieved by using high-end solutions based on ultra-wideband (UWB) radios. These are used in applications such as high precision track-and-trace and industrial applications. With imec’s solution, however, accurate localisation and high security is now possible using standard Bluetooth.

While expensive UWB technology serves demanding applications, its cost prevents its use in high volume and cost sensitive products.

The performance of imec’s accurate ranging has already been demonstrated on commercial chips, both for Bluetooth and IEEE802.15.4, demonstrating both its versatility and that it works on narrowband radios of various standards and manufacturers.

Highly efficient it uses less than 32kB of ROM and 64kB of RAM on an ARM Cortex M4F device with less than 50msec per measurement when running at 120MHz.

The imec phase-based solution is robust for multipath reflections, which are typically a challenge for RSSI based solutions operating in indoor environments.

“By leveraging the pervasiveness of Bluetooth in smartphones and other mobile devices, imec’s technology delivers very accurate and reliable localisation for numerous new IoT applications”, said Kathleen Philips, IoT director at imec. “Together with our industrial
partners, we are working on bringing this technology into a next version
of the Bluetooth standard.”

The new solution enables the use of standard Bluetooth transceivers to measure the distance between two devices. Furthermore, it is protected against spoofing by creating a
secure channel between two authenticated devices, developed together with the COSIC security solutions team of KU Leuven.

"Location spoofing is an underestimated problem, that has moved from an academic research topic to a realistic threat in the field,” explained Bart Preneel, head of the imec-COSIC research group at the KU Leuven. "Fortunately, our early research in this area is paying off: in collaboration with imec it has resulted in practical solutions."

Imec’s secure proximity technology is intended for intuitive, yet secure, building access and car entry. It also enables new location-based data access services where accuracy and security are paramount in view of privacy, such as in hospitals where a patient’s record is pulled up automatically as the doctor approaches the patient’s bed.

This technology is now available for commercial applications, for licensing and further development towards specific application requirements.