TRACKING BOXES WITH DRONES
Boxes are basically everywhere. The United States Postal Service shipped 5. 2 billion packages in
2016, while Amazon shipped one billion packages just
for the holidays.
Keeping track of all these boxes can be a real
nightmare. Retailers, shipping companies, and
manufacturers are always looking for better ways to
manage inventory. In recent years, they’ve begun using
RFID tags to track boxes from warehouses to trucks
to retail stores and then to customer’s homes.
Unfortunately, RFID tags aren’t exactly perfect. At
virtually every step, employees must scan each tag
with an RFID reader. These scans must be done at
close range because RFID tags harness power from
the signal the reader transmits to them.
Recently, researchers have started to investigate
other ways for these industries to trace items,
including systems that can snap photos of labels or identify
shipments by other visual cues. However, an MIT group
thinks they have an even better answer.
A team led by Fadel Adib — a principal investigator at
the MIT Media Lab — attached an RFID relay to a drone
that he says could fly around and scan all the RFID tags on
every box in a warehouse, and transmit that information
back to a reader.
Using their prototype, the RFID tags and reader can be
placed up to 50 meters apart. The system can also correctly
record the location of a box to within a meter at the 50
meter range. At shorter ranges, it can pinpoint a box’s
location to within 19 centimeters.
In telecommunications, relays are commonly used to
boost signals from a cell tower to reach customers on the
edge of a service area. The MIT group is the first to apply
this concept to RFID tags and execute it with a drone.
Eventually, Adib wants to create a daisy chain of drones
that can relay information to one another and forward it to
For now, the test system consists of a single drone that
forwards a signal from an RFID reader to a tag. The tag uses
some of the energy from that signal to power itself, and also
encodes its identifier on the signal before sending it back. The
drone then forwards that signal on to the reader which
decodes the identifier.
For the project, the group used a $499 Parrot BEBOP 2
drone and Alien Squiggle passive RFID tags, which cost 12
Neato Robotics is introducing a new flagship robot vacuum that offers a significant advancement:
persistent, actionable maps. Like its predecessors, the D7
uses a LIDAR sensor to create a map of your house as it
goes, but now, the robot will remember that map and allow
you to interact with it.
Neato is starting off simple with what you’ll be able to
do (like defining no-go zones), but it’s an incredibly powerful
feature that’s necessary for the future of all home robots.
bots IN BRIEF
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