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MIT drones in search of the lost box

September 19, 2017.

RFly drone.

Drone RFly. © MIT Media Lab/Fadel Adib & Jimmy Day.

The job of inventory managers is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. Boxes, packages and even entire pallets can be misplaced or moved with no record of their new location, leading to wasted time and missed sales when goods can’t be found. A group from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab came up with a solution to this problem using drones and RFID tags, which are replacing bar codes as a standard feature in the logistics industry. The advantage of RFID tags over optical recognition systems is that the tags are readable even when not visible. The idea is to mount an RFID transmitter on a drone to enable it to analyze every RFID tag it flies over, and to relay the information wirelessly. The prototype tested by the team was able to triangulate a specific package in a warehouse to 19 cm. The system is able to handle up to 100 tags per second. The next step is to make the drone autonomous, doing away with the need for an operator.

IEEE Spectrum, “MIT builds drone-based RFID relay to track boxes in warehouses.”

MIT Media Lab, “RFly: Drones that find missing objects using battery-free RFIDs.”