Tracking inventories in modern distribution warehouses is a huge challenge even for well-managed companies. Items in inventories that are lost reportedly cost
American retailers over $45 billion annually. Therefore MIT has developed a new system that could track doen lost and existiging inventories, using small drones and RFID (radio0frequency identification) tags to monitor inventory more efficiently.
According to the MIT research team, the biggest challenge in developing its RFID-reading drone fleet was finding a way to make it safe. The only drones safe enough to fly in close proximity to humans are small, lightweight ones with plastic rotors. Unfortunately, those drones aren’t able to carry RFID readers with a meaningful range.
MIT says this problem was made worse by the fact its system needs to accurately locate the RFID tags to be of use. Location-detection systems traditionally use antenna arrays to work out where the RFID signals are coming from, but the drone is too small to carry one. The fix for this is simple: because it’s constantly moving, readings taken at different times will correlate with different locations, essentially simulating the role of a traditional antenna array.
On top of this, because the drone is constantly moving around, the signal reaching the reader is affected not only by the position of the RFID tag, but the position of the drone as well – and the reader isn’t able to work out how much the drone’s movement has impacted the location of the signal.
This system has made it easier for distribution and manufacturing companies to track their inventories without fail.
Image via New Atlas