Watching ice hockey on television in the days of broadcast television was a challenge, to say the least. You could see players moving around on the ice, but the contrast was such that it was hard to judge depth or position, so you never knew exactly how far away they were from each other. Recognizing faces was difficult, especially when they were moving, which may have been a blessing in the days before helmets. Here’s what I mean by “follow the puck.”

What digital did for hockey is similar to what UWB will do for our everyday lives.

As for the puck, you pretty much had to imagine where it was on the field — because it seemed to move faster than the analog cameras could capture. The resolution was hideous and wouldn’t reveal that puck beyond a blurry smudge even if it was motionless.

UWB, which stands for Ultra Wide Band, was a technology developed about the same time as WiFi.

UWB came with WiFi and Bluetooth but, a. my hockey analogy, user expectations, and performance requirements were different in the past. The average bit rate was much lower (I can still remember the sound of a dialup connection), There were far fewer connected devices, and there were no smart cars or speakers that we wanted to put to use. Hackers weren’t a “thing” yet.

Better able to follow the puck on our 41 billion I0T devices.

Today is a different story; conservative estimates project more than 41 billion IoT connected devices by 2025, which will generate 79.4 zettabytes of data. Another study sees every person owning 15 connected devices.  Reliable connectivity via new 5G technology will help these devices perform increasingly complicated and vital tasks both in the cloud and independently, or locally at the “edge.”

UWB transmits over short distances, much like Bluetooth.

The UWB transmission will allow for far more significant and faster data exchange, and it doesn’t interfere with other bandwidths, so it’s very precise. This means allowing devices to register far better details on things like position, movement, and distance. It’s also very secure.

The new iPhone chip transfer.

Apple’s latest iPhone (iPhone 11), as it has been publicly reported that the chip will enable users to share files via AirDrop by simply pointing their smartphones at recipients. By merely pointing all information will appear on the other person’s phone.

Finding my stuff with my phone.

The same reports also note that, over time, UWB may be used to locate tagged items. Whether via an existing app or some new version of augmented reality (imagine “seeing” a lost item appear in your smartphone screen’s field of view).

And this is just the beginning. Since UWB works indoors and is more precise than other technologies, we will see smart services customized to specific users at specific moments, or “use cases.” Imagine each member of your family experiencing a “customized” version of their shared household.

As each individual approaches, the home recognizes who it is, and opens the door. The individual’s preferred temperature, lighting, even music or other entertainment content would follow them around the home. UWB will make their interactions with technology either simple (think advanced gesture or facial expression controls) or entirely automatic.

The uses for UWB in automotive and industrial settings are even more immense.

Since UWB can sense location in 1/1000th the time, it takes traditional technologies so that decision-making will get faster and more precise. The technology will enable new ways for cars and industrial robots not only to sense their environments, but take actions, or actuate based on that data.

In the short-term, we’ll see UWB making remote unlocking of cars a lot more secure.

Thanks to its built-in protections against hacking, vehicles will be more secure. I suspect we’ll see new smart devices enabled by UWB at next year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

Ultimately, the challenge will be for developers to reimagine how they can use more precise, faster, and reliably safe and secure sensory data to accomplish tasks for users. The opportunity will be to improve those users’ lives.

It will be fun to follow the puck.

Lars Reger

Lars Reger

Lars Reger is responsible for NXP’s overall tech portfolio, including Autonomous Driving, Consumer and Industrial IoT and Security. Prior to joining NXP in 2008, Lars held various positions with Siemens, Infineon and Continental.