Skip to main content

MIT’s RFID drones could solve a multibillion-dollar problem — and find lost keys

RFly: Drones that find missing objects using battery-free RFIDs
When you’re dealing with the kind of giant warehouses required by retail giants and other large organizations, taking inventory of stock by hand can be an enormously time-consuming job that verges on the impossible. For example, even the smallest Walmart warehouse is larger than 17 football fields, making it easy for things to get lost. (This is actually more of a serious problem than you might think: over an eight-year period, the U.S. Army lost track of $5.8 billion of supplies in its warehouses.) As a result, companies have increasingly been looking into using drones to speed up the task. However, most attempts to do this haven’t been as efficient as they could be, primarily because they rely on barcode readers or cameras, which miss any items not visible to a camera through line of sight.

That’s an issue that Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers have tried to address with a new project called RFly, which uses a combination of drones and RFID (radio frequency identifier) tags to, they hope, revolutionize both inventory management and the “non-line-of-sight” problem.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

“We developed RFly, a new technology that allows drones to find missing and hidden objects using wireless signals,” Fadel Adib, whose group at the MIT Media Lab developed the new system, told Digital Trends. “Our technology works by analyzing the wireless signals reflected from battery-free RFID stickers. RFIDs are wireless stickers that are attached to objects similar to barcodes. To locate these RFIDs, our drones transmit wireless signals to power them up, then analyze their responses. As these drones fly, they analyze the physical waves of the RFID responses and use these waves to locate the RFIDs. Our technology allows drones to pin down the location of an RFID to the exact shelf an item is on, and our location-finding algorithm is inspired by how airplane radars map the surface of the Earth.”

According to its creators, the RFly system can read RFID tags from more than 50 feet away and identify objects on shelves within 8 inches of their location. The system could also be used for doing more than just Identifying products.

“The applications are vast, and they range from doing remote inventory control in an entire warehouse to allowing people to find missing items at home,” Adib continued. “Imagine a future where each of us has a small miniature drone, and we dispatch the drone to fetch our keys, wallets, or glasses when we can’t find them.”

Editors' Recommendations

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
Digital Trends’ Tech For Change CES 2023 Awards
Digital Trends CES 2023 Tech For Change Award Winners Feature

CES is more than just a neon-drenched show-and-tell session for the world’s biggest tech manufacturers. More and more, it’s also a place where companies showcase innovations that could truly make the world a better place — and at CES 2023, this type of tech was on full display. We saw everything from accessibility-minded PS5 controllers to pedal-powered smart desks. But of all the amazing innovations on display this year, these three impressed us the most:

Samsung's Relumino Mode
Across the globe, roughly 300 million people suffer from moderate to severe vision loss, and generally speaking, most TVs don’t take that into account. So in an effort to make television more accessible and enjoyable for those millions of people suffering from impaired vision, Samsung is adding a new picture mode to many of its new TVs.
[CES 2023] Relumino Mode: Innovation for every need | Samsung
Relumino Mode, as it’s called, works by adding a bunch of different visual filters to the picture simultaneously. Outlines of people and objects on screen are highlighted, the contrast and brightness of the overall picture are cranked up, and extra sharpness is applied to everything. The resulting video would likely look strange to people with normal vision, but for folks with low vision, it should look clearer and closer to "normal" than it otherwise would.
Excitingly, since Relumino Mode is ultimately just a clever software trick, this technology could theoretically be pushed out via a software update and installed on millions of existing Samsung TVs -- not just new and recently purchased ones.

Read more
AI turned Breaking Bad into an anime — and it’s terrifying
Split image of Breaking Bad anime characters.

These days, it seems like there's nothing AI programs can't do. Thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence, deepfakes have done digital "face-offs" with Hollywood celebrities in films and TV shows, VFX artists can de-age actors almost instantly, and ChatGPT has learned how to write big-budget screenplays in the blink of an eye. Pretty soon, AI will probably decide who wins at the Oscars.

Within the past year, AI has also been used to generate beautiful works of art in seconds, creating a viral new trend and causing a boon for fan artists everywhere. TikTok user @cyborgism recently broke the internet by posting a clip featuring many AI-generated pictures of Breaking Bad. The theme here is that the characters are depicted as anime characters straight out of the 1980s, and the result is concerning to say the least. Depending on your viewpoint, Breaking Bad AI (my unofficial name for it) shows how technology can either threaten the integrity of original works of art or nurture artistic expression.
What if AI created Breaking Bad as a 1980s anime?
Playing over Metro Boomin's rap remix of the famous "I am the one who knocks" monologue, the video features images of the cast that range from shockingly realistic to full-on exaggerated. The clip currently has over 65,000 likes on TikTok alone, and many other users have shared their thoughts on the art. One user wrote, "Regardless of the repercussions on the entertainment industry, I can't wait for AI to be advanced enough to animate the whole show like this."

Read more
4 simple pieces of tech that helped me run my first marathon
Garmin Forerunner 955 Solar displaying pace information.

The fitness world is littered with opportunities to buy tech aimed at enhancing your physical performance. No matter your sport of choice or personal goals, there's a deep rabbit hole you can go down. It'll cost plenty of money, but the gains can be marginal -- and can honestly just be a distraction from what you should actually be focused on. Running is certainly susceptible to this.

A few months ago, I ran my first-ever marathon. It was an incredible accomplishment I had no idea I'd ever be able to reach, and it's now going to be the first of many I run in my lifetime. And despite my deep-rooted history in tech, and the endless opportunities for being baited into gearing myself up with every last product to help me get through the marathon, I went with a rather simple approach.

Read more