RFID tag system helps robots accurately track moving objects

February 25, 2019 //By Rich Pell
RFID tag system helps robots accurately track moving objects
Researchers at MIT (Cambridge, MA) have developed a 3D localization system using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags that helps robots track moving objects with "unprecedented" speed and accuracy, potentially benefiting robotic manufacturing, collaborative drones, and other applications.

Using RFID tags that can be applied to any object, the system, called TurboTrack, enables robots using it to locate tagged objects within 7.5 milliseconds, on average, and with an error of less than a centimeter. Such a system, say the researchers, could enable greater collaboration and precision by robots working on packaging and assembly, and by swarms of drones carrying out search-and-rescue missions.

With the system, a standard RF reader sends a wireless signal that reflects off the RFID tag and other nearby objects, and rebounds to the reader. An algorithm sifts through all the reflected signals to find the RFID tag's response. Final computations then leverage the RFID tag's movement - even though this usually decreases precision - to improve its localization accuracy.

The system, say the researchers, could replace computer vision for some robotic tasks. Unlike computer vision, which is limited by what it can see, RF signals can identify targets without visualization, within clutter and through walls.

To test the system, the researchers attached one RFID tag to a cap and another to a bottle (see image above). A robotic arm located the cap and placed it onto the bottle, held by another robotic arm.

In another demonstration, the researchers tracked RFID-equipped nanodrones during docking, maneuvering, and flying. In both tasks,say the researchers, the system was as accurate and fast as traditional computer vision systems, while working in scenarios where computer vision fails.

"If you use RF signals for tasks typically done using computer vision," says Fadel Adib, an assistant professor and principal investigator in the MIT Media Lab, and founding director of the Signal Kinetics Research Group, "not only do you enable robots to do human things, but you can also enable them to do superhuman things. And you can do it in a scalable way, because these RFID tags are only three cents each."

In manufacturing, the system could enable robot arms to be

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