NXP Semiconductors and Volkswagen shared early glimpses into ultra-wideband (UWB) technology and its future applications. In a Volkswagen concept car, the companies revealed the capabilities of ultra-wideband for advancing security, safety, and convenience in vehicles.

In automotive, UWB could enable use cases such as automated trailer hitch activation, in-cabin passenger detection, automated valet parking, hands-free parking, and lot access and drive-through payment. Another application is walking pattern recognition for car access, which was demonstrated in the VW concept car. The Volkswagen UWB car key used high-precision sensing technology and artificial intelligence to learn personalized user gestures.

The companies say that developers of applications in markets such as mobile, automotive, internet-of-things (IoT), and the industrial space have been actively seeking a secure, fine ranging technology that delivers precise outdoor and indoor localization. They believe that UWB meets these requirements, and say its ability to process contextual information such as the position of the UWB anchor, its movements, and distance to other devices with the precision of a few centimeters in real-time, will enable a host of new applications.

Due to its low power spectral density, UWB reportedly offers little to no interference with other wireless standards, so it is suited for use with other wireless technologies, including Near Field Communication (NFC), Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi.

Maik Rohde, Head of Body Electronics and Car Access, Volkswagen, said, "The first UWB application we see is in theft protection—another security milestone which you will see in volume Volkswagen car models starting this year. But this is only the beginning. UWB, especially when combined with high-precision sensors and artificial intelligence, can deliver further benefits. Some of these you can experience in our concept car."

Lars Reger, Chief Technology Officer, NXP, noted, "We see enormous potential in UWB. As a co-founder of the FiRa Consortium, we are working to enhance the technology, drive its standardization, and also to develop new use cases.  A potential application, that I personally find very compelling, is the potential UWB has to replace the key ring for your home, office or car."

The FiRa Consortium was launched by the ASSA ABLOY Group, which includes HID Global, NXP Semiconductors, Samsung Electronics, and Bosch, in response to the need for emerging applications to build on a strong foundation that supports interoperability among all categories of devices. The new coalition is designed to grow the ultra-wideband (UWB) ecosystem so new use cases for fine ranging capabilities can thrive, ultimately setting a new standard in seamless user experiences. Sony Imaging Products & Solutions, LitePoint, and the Telecommunications Technology Association (TTA) are the first companies to join the new organization.

The FiRa name, which stands for “fine ranging,” highlights UWB technology’s ability to deliver unprecedented accuracy when measuring the distance or determining the relative position of a target.

The starting point for UWB technology is the IEEE standard 802.15.4/4z, which defines the essential characteristics for low-data-rate wireless connectivity and enhanced ranging. The FiRa Consortium is aiming to build on what the IEEE has already established by developing an interoperability standard based on the IEEE’s profiled features, defining mechanisms that are out of scope of the IEEE standard, and pursuing activities that support rapid development of specific use cases.

“The FiRa Consortium’s commitment to a complete ecosystem means we will work with other consortia and industry players to develop approaches and define parameters,” said Charles Dachs, Vice-Chair of the FiRa Consortium and GM & VP Secure Embedded Transactions, NXP Semiconductors.

Ramesh Songukrishnasamy, Director and Treasurer of the FiRa Consortium and SVP & CTO of HID Global, said, “We encourage anyone, from any relevant industry area, who has a vested interest in the success of UWB, to join us and contribute to the consortium’s work.”