Video: MIT researchers design drone for reading RFID tags

MIT researchers have developed a system that enables small, safe, aerial drones to read RFID tags from tens of meters away while identifying tag location 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.

RFly is a new drone-based wireless technology that can help companies save billions of dollars in misplaced items and faulty inventory in their warehouses. Consider that the smallest Walmart warehouse is larger than 17 football fields, making it impossible to keep track of all items in the warehouse. To enable more efficient inventory control, companies have looked into using cheap, battery-free RFID tags which are attached to objects similar to barcodes and which can be read and identified from a distance. However, today’s solutions for scanning RFIDs can only work at fairly short distances of tens of centimeters to few meters — even less if the RFID is buried under a stack of objects.

RFly overcomes this range limitation and extends the coverage for RFID location-finding and scanning systems by 100x — increasing them from a few square meters to hundreds of square meters. Its key innovation is a new relay technology which can seamlessly integrate with a deployed RFID infrastructure and at the same time identify the location of every item to within less than a foot (i.e., to its exact shelf in the warehouse).