AI News, Drones relay RFID signals for inventory control

Drones relay RFID signals for inventory control

The dirt-cheap, battery-free tags, which receive power wirelessly from scanners and then broadcast identifying numbers, enable warehouse managers to log inventory much more efficiently than they could by reading box numbers and recording them manually.

Even with RFID technology, it can take a single large retail store three months to perform a complete inventory review, which means that mismatches often go undiscovered until exposed by a customer request.

MIT researchers have now developed a system that enables small, safe, aerial drones to read RFID tags from tens of meters away while identifying the tags’ locations with an average error of about 19 centimeters.

The researchers envision that the system could be used in large warehouses for both continuous monitoring, to prevent inventory mismatches, and location of individual items, so that employees can rapidly and reliably meet customer requests.

The central challenge in designing the system was that, with the current state of autonomous navigation, the only drones safe enough to fly within close range of humans are small, lightweight drones with plastic rotors, which wouldn’t cause injuries in the event of a collision.

By enabling drones to find and localize items and equipment, this research will provide a fundamental technological advancement for solving these problems.” The MIT researchers describe their system, dubbed RFly, in a paper they presented this week at the annual conference of the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Data Communications.

A drone alternates between relaying the reader’s signal to a tagged item and simply letting its own tag reflect the signal back, so that the reader can estimate the drone’s contribution to the total phase shift and remove it.

In experiments in the Media Lab that involved tagged objects, many of which were intentionally hidden to approximate the condition of merchandise heaped in piles on warehouse shelves, the system was able to localize the tags with 19-centimeter accuracy while extending the range of the reader tenfold in all directions, or one hundredfold cumulatively.

Drones relay RFID signals for inventory control

But the scale of modern retail operations makes even radio frequency ID (RFID) scanning inefficient.

Even with RFID technology, it can take a single large retail store three months to perform a complete inventory review, which means that mismatches often go undiscovered until exposed by a customer request.

MIT researchers have now developed a system that enables small, safe, aerial drones to read RFID tags from tens of meters away while identifying the tags' locations with an average error of about 19 centimeters.

The researchers envision that the system could be used in large warehouses for both continuous monitoring, to prevent inventory mismatches, and location of individual items, so that employees can rapidly and reliably meet customer requests.

The central challenge in designing the system was that, with the current state of autonomous navigation, the only drones safe enough to fly within close range of humans are small, lightweight drones with plastic rotors, which wouldn't cause injuries in the event of a collision.

The drone is too small to carry an array of antennas, but it is continuously moving, so readings it takes at different times are also taken at different locations, simulating the multiple antenna elements of an array.

A drone alternates between relaying the reader's signal to a tagged item and simply letting its own tag reflect the signal back, so that the reader can estimate the drone's contribution to the total phase shift and remove it.

In experiments in the Media Lab that involved tagged objects, many of which were intentionally hidden to approximate the condition of merchandise heaped in piles on warehouse shelves, the system was able to localize the tags with 19-centimeter accuracy while extending the range of the reader tenfold in all directions, or one hundredfold cumulatively.

Study finds drones accurate for relay of RFID signals for inventory control

Aug. 25 (UPI) -- Researchers at MIT have developed a system that enables small, safe, aerial drones to read radio frequency ID tags from tens of meters away with better accuracy.

However, in recent years, the scale of modern retail operations has made RFID scanning inefficient with many retailers reporting significant financial losses due to mismatches between inventory records and stock.

Researchers have developed a system that allows small, safe aerial drones to read RFID tags from tens of meters away while identifying the tags' locations with an average error of roughly 19 centimeters.

Have MIT Drones Solved a Billion-Dollar Warehouse Problem?

It’s wild to think that barcodes, the universal method for keeping track of inventory, first unrolled on the retail industry in the 1960s.

Although they only cost a few cents, are powered wirelessly, and can make the inventory-logging process vastly more efficient, the savings don’t add up because the work still requires humans to move through shelf after shelf, often in a massive warehouse, to manually read every object.

“Between 2003 and 2011, the U.S. Army lost track of $5.8 billion of supplies among its warehouses,” says Adib, who is a “Sony Corporation Career Development Assistant Professor” at MIT, which also cited a loss by Walmart in 2013 of $3 billion in revenue over discrepancies between inventory records and actual stock.

The MIT research team developed an aerial drone system capable of reading RFID tags from tens of meters away and identifying the location of the package within a 19-centimeter radius of accuracy.

The drones don’t actually carry the RFID reader with them — Adib explains that this added weight basically caused the drone to crash — but rather, relays the signals emitted by the reader over larger distances.

Adib says the team is already getting a ton of attention from different parties, and for good reason, when you consider how in 2016, the U.S. National Retail Federation estimated that inventory shrinkage accounted for about $45.2 billion in annual losses among retailers.

Moreover, the fact that a job which once took potentially a year to do can now be accomplished in under a day could actually incentivize companies to keep their warehouses in the U.S., since it would help cut the costs of keeping those facilities working.

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