MIT Media Lab Develops Battery-Free RFID for Drones
Tom Spendlove posted on December 12, 2017 |
MIT Media Lab project has developed a new RFID relay system and attached it to drones for inventory ...

The smallest Walmart warehouse is larger than seventeen football fields – that’s one of the reasons that the RFly group at MIT’s Media Lab is working on inventory control innovations. Billions of dollars are lost every year due to lost items or incorrect records. The Signal Kinetics group, led by Fadel Adib and his students Yunfei Ma and Nicholas Selby, has a mission of “extending human and computer abilities in sensing, communication, and actuation through signals and networks.” The engineers have developed a combined wireless framework and a drone to locate items in warehouses.

A drone outfitted with a wireless reader can fly through a warehouse and scan RFID tags placed on pallets of inventory. The new part here is the battery-free RFID stickers that are placed on the inventory. Normally RFIDs have a small range because they’re built to be cheap and battery free. RFly’s communication relay can communicate position and increase the range by an estimated one hundred times. Flying through the warehouse RFly’s location algorithm collects signals from every tag that it passes and can pinpoint any RFID’s location with about a foot of accuracy.

The paper Drone Relays for Battery-Free Networks explains the system in full detail, focusing on the innovations in the relay and presented this past August at SIGCOMM. Three key characteristics were required when building the relays – the system needed to be bidirectionally full-duplex sending information back and forth both from the tagged object and the reader system. The relays needed to preserve the phase and timing characteristics of the data stored in the system, and be compact enough to fit on a drone.  

MIT’s Media Lab continues to do amazing things with drones at both the fantastic moonshot level and these kinds of small manufacturing specific projects. It’s interesting to think about how these inventory drones might work together with inventory controlling robots at larger Amazon fulfillment center warehouses. 

(Photo credit: CC BY-4.0. Credit: MIT Media Lab/Fadel Adib and Jimmy Day)

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