Wireless Active And Passive Tracking Systems II Computer Science Essay

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Abstract: The field of Wireless Active and Passive Tracking Systems is one of many dimensions. Tracking systems have evolved over the last decade due to the social implications and requirements of society. Products, people and vehicles need to be tracked for security, legal, economic and environmental reasons. Active tracking systems make use of batteries and provide real time information whereas passive systems store the date in internal memory which can be downloaded at a later date. Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) are used in tracking systems to assist in locating vehicles, people and objects. There are three main GNSS namely: GPS, GLONASS and Galileo. Passive systems can be found in a range of products one of the most common being vehicle satellite navigation systems. Active systems can also be found in a wide range of applications the most common being the GPRS world tracker. Both types of system have varying architectures consequently determining their functionality. One main concern with tracking systems is the issue of privacy. Many people feel intimidated by them and feel they are being watched like 'Big Brother'. The world is widely populated with tracking devices and it will become even more saturated when Galileo is released. Galileo is a satellite system provided by the European Union which will provide an avenue for many new ventures to be explored. In addition to Galileo many other projects are being researched including the development of Blue & Me Live TomTom satellite navigation systems for vehicles. Research is also being carried out in the field of indoor satellite navigation systems. As the technologies are developed even further customers and users of such systems will enjoy an enhanced and more efficient performance.


This paper will investigate Wireless Active and Passive Tracking Systems. Since there has been rapid growth and development in this area the author feels it is imperative to investigate this field.

A tracking system can be defined as an electronic device used to track the location of an object, vehicle or person [1]. Usually, an electronic tracking device is installed or attached to the subject which enables locations to be uncovered [1].

Wireless tracking systems can categorically be broken down into "Passive" and "Active". An active system collects information and then transmits it in real time format. This transmission usually occurs over cellular or satellite networks and resides in a data centre [2]. Since active solutions require data to be transmitted to a receiver itself they make use of batteries. This facilitates bi-directional communication and also ensures there is maximum reading distance between the tag and the receiver. Since an active tag has a diverse range of functionality they are relatively expensive.

On the other hand a passive system does not work in real time, the information is stored and then downloaded at a later time [2]. A further element of a passive system is that there is an auto downloads function which permits the moving of data via a wireless system therefore resulting in a less expensive device [2].

Tracking systems are used throughout the world for a variety of reasons: Stolen Vehicle Recovery, Vehicle Tracking, Fleet Management, Asset Tracking, Field Service Management, Field Sales, Surveillance, Healthcare in particular electronic blood tracking, Trailer Tracking, Postal Services, Couriers and Surveying [1]. The electronic blood tracking system is illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Electronic Blood Tracking System [3]

It is evident that active and passive systems vary considerably and therefore have been fabricated in different ways to provide efficient, wide ranging functionality.

Technical Aspect

Satellite navigation systems are commonly used for tracking systems. The collective name for this geo-spatial positioning system with global coverage is Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS). There are three main types of GNSS systems namely: Global Positioning System (GPS), GLONASS and Galileo.

GPS was developed by the United States and is a satellite-based navigation system that comprises of 24 satellites enclosed in a network. All satellites in the network are positioned into orbit [4]. Furthermore the system constitutes three main sections namely: control, user and space. The control section is used to monitor the ground stations and ensures the satellites are fully operational whilst the user section can be denoted as an electronic device stationed in a vehicle [4]. The user section is commonly known as the receiver. Lastly the space section is made of the satellites network. All three sections come together, working in conjunction with one another to ensure the vehicle location is detected. The global positioning system for a vehicle tracking system is depicted in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Global Positioning System for Vehicle Tracking [5]

GLONASS is a satellite navigation system which was developed by Russia and used in tracking systems [6]. It is similar to GPS in that it also uses 24 satellites enclosed in a network. Galileo is a further satellite navigation system being developed by the European Union [6]. When this system comes to fruition it is hoped 22 satellites will be operational. Table 1 below shows the features of each technology.




Orbit height & period

Number of satellites



United States




> 24








24 (30 when CDMA signal launches)

Operational with restrictions, CDMA in preparation


European Union




2 test satellites in orbit

22 satellites being developed

Currently under development

Table 1: Comparison of GNSS Systems [6]

While these systems can be used in a standalone fashion it is evident from research that companies are combining satellite systems to provide enhanced accuracy and coverage. Topcon, a world wide company specialising in positioning systems use a combination of both the American GPS system and the Russian GLONASS satellite system [6]. Such a combination ensures there is always satellites available consequently offering optimum performance [6].

Passive tracking systems are still used but perhaps not as often as previous times due to their lack of sophistication and real time ability. Passive systems are commonly found utilised for car satellite navigation systems, survey equipment for civil engineers and Land/Air/Sea trackers.

The architecture and technical specification of vehicle satellite navigation determines its functionality and performance. A TomTom Start Regional Black satellite navigation system provides routing, planning and location information for drivers. Since this device utilised a passive system it contains a battery which will permit full operation for up to two hours [7]. The system also contains a highly sensitive GPS chipset which will ensure accuracy and enhance coverage. The memory for this model will be inbuilt and will consist of 1GB of flash memory [7]. When data is utilised within the system it will be stored in the flash memory and can be downloaded at a later time. There is a USB port in the system which will aid both the downloading of data and the charging of the unit. The screen size is 9cm which is of LCD type [7]. Furthermore high quality resolution is offered namely: 320 x 240 pixels [7]. This satellite navigation system weights 125grams and is 94mm x 81mm x 20mm which aids portability and ease of use [7]. The system also supports a range of languages both as inputs and outputs. One of the drawbacks of the system is that it only provides coverage for the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland [7]. This satellite navigation system is depicted in Figure 3.

Figure 3: TomTom Regional Black Satellite Navigation System [7]

To provide more functionality and to ensure better use of the data collected active systems have been introduced to the market. Many companies have developed systems using active system technologies, in particular Tracking The World have created a World Tracker GPRS. This device provides real time tracking capabilities updating every 15 seconds [8]. This electronic device can be placed in vehicles, packages or people to trace their location and whereabouts. Figure 4 illustrates how the World Tracker GPRS device operates.

Figure 4: World Tracker GPRS System operation [8]

As the diagram illustrates the location of an object is defined by the GPS network. The location data it then sent via the GSM cellular network [8]. The location data is then received by the gateway server and this data is processed into information and passed to the Internet. Next the location information is then made available via a mobile phone or a computer where it can used by the end user [8].

To enable this process to take place the World Tracker GPRS system has been fabricated taking account of a wide ranging specification. There is no external antennae encased in the device, it uses a plug and play function. It has an internal GSM antenna alongside an internal active GPS antenna. The GPRS tracker makes use of a Geofence feature which triggers an alert should a target move from a pre-defined range [8]. To assist with vehicle theft the tracker has an anti-theft function which raises an alarm if a vehicle is moved from a parked location. The tracker makes use of a GSM network which is utilised when a GPS signal is lost. This will boost signal coverage and ensure the system and be used at all times. Furthermore worldwide coverage is obtained by using a tri-band GSM module GSM900/1800/1900 MHz [8]. The GSM chipset is shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5: GSM Chipset [8]

Additionally the device has 16 parallel channels GPS receiver. The GPRS system has three acquisition times namely: hot, warm and cold. The hot typical time is less then 6sec time to first fix (TTFF). The warm typical time is less than 35sec time to first fix (TTFF) and the cold typical time is less than 45sec time to first fix (TTFF) [8].

One very important aspect of the system device is the accuracy it offers. The exact positioning accuracy of the GPRS is less than 15 meters [8]. This is very important so the relative position can be accurately located. It has a power supply with a 12V DC adapter and a 3.6V DC Li-Ion battery. When the battery is fully charged it will offer 24 hours operational time.

The main challenges associated with tracking system technologies is the issue of privacy violation [9]. This issue particularly applies to systems which use the active formation. Since the data is in real time format it means a person, object or vehicle can be accurately and precisely traced at any given time. This can compromise human safety, invade privacy and make people feel uncomfortable as they feel they are being followed and watched [9].

Furthermore, information is being transmitted in a wireless fashion which could be intercepted and therefore get in the wrong hands and be used for the unintended purposes.

Future of the Technology

One of the main developments of GNSS technology is the fabrication of the Galileo Satellite system. As previously mentioned this system is being developed by the European Union and already has two test satellites in orbit. It is anticipated that a further 22 satellites will be put into orbit. The Galileo system will be compatible with the existing US GPS system and Russia's GLONASS system. Utilising the three systems will provide real time positioning of less than one metre [10]. There is a certain degree of controversy associated with the completion date of the Galileo project. Some sources stipulate it will be ready as soon as 2013 while others anticipate it will not be available until 2020.

It is expected that Galileo will be used for a wide variety of applications. Firstly their will be huge potential for internet-linked services run off mobiles which will extend to vehicle satellite navigation systems [10]. It will enable multimedia to be delivered to tourists' mobiles as they walk around towns and cities. There it the potential to offer a 'Guardian Angel' service whereby separated and missing children can be located [10].

A further development which can be deployed through the utilisation of Galileo is Europe's new air traffic control system [10]. The current technologies used to keep planes at safe separations will be replaced. This replacement will allow pilots to fly their own routes and altitudes.

Galileo will bring benefit to national governments as the tools required to wide-scale road charging can be created [10].

Many companies have future proofed their products that are already on the market in anticipation of the release of Galileo. They have developed their products with hardware and software that is compatible with Galileo. When Galileo is released the equipment will only require a firmware update and then it can make use of the Galileo satellites. Topcon is one such company and with the release of Galileo they will offer customers products and instruments that have increased accuracy of less than one meter [6].

A further development in the field of Wireless Active and Passive Tracking Systems is that of 'Live Satellite Navigation Systems'. Previously satellite navigation systems used passive technology but research has shown that developers such as TomTom are embracing the active technologies.

TomTom are due to unveil a new range of systems named 'The Blue & Me Live Range' in 2011. Figure 6 shows the Blue & Me Live TomTom satellite navigation system.

Figure 6: Blue & Me Live TomTom Satellite Navigation System [11]

The range of systems will offer real time processing capabilities including accurate traffic information and dynamic route guidance [11]. It is anticipated the system will update every two minutes so traffic jams are reported with a higher degree of accuracy and it will also provide real time information on speed cameras [11]. The satellite navigation will also enable users to undertake local searches and receive live weather updates [11]. With such a versatile and wide range of features this system will undoubtedly assist shipping industries, couriers, postal services and fleet management.

A further development in the field of tracking systems is the creation of a satellite navigation system which can be used indoors. At present satellite navigation systems are used outside. When taken indoors they encounter problems such as the signals being too week and also the signals bounce of surfaces causing misinterpretation of information. Thales a French aerospace company is undertaking research to counteract this problem [12]. It is anticipated the new system will use Ultra Wide Band signals which are a new type of radio signal [12]. The main purpose of these signals is that they suffice for a short range and high data-rate links [12]. Then radio pulses will be used to locate the position of a person or object. One of the main anticipated applications for this new technology would be fire fighters [12]. They will be able to wear the electronic device before they enter a burning building, then a commander stationed in the fire truck will be able to trace their movements through the building and take an necessary actions based on the data received from the tracking device. This could prove to be a very beneficial piece of equipment as it has the potential to save lives.

The field of Wireless tracking systems is ever evolving and there are a lot of new developments on the horizon which will offer customers improved products that fully meet their needs.


In conclusion it is evident there are a lot of different tracking systems available ranging from tracking a car to tracking a person. A lot of the systems are based on the same principal of utilising GNSS. However each system possesses different hardware and software elements providing them with varying functionality. An active system will allow real time processing and is more expensive than that of a passive system. Due to active systems providing real time capabilities they are becoming more and more popular and are the area in which most development will take place in, in the future.

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