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Category: RFID, Automated Data Collection, and Internet of Things

RFID, AIDC and IoT News: Will Drone Based RFID Readers ever Gain Traction?

 

From the Retail Store to Outdoor Warehouses, a Hunt for Applications

April 25, 2016
SCDigest Editorial Staff

Will drones equipped with RFID readers someday find a role in the supply chain?

SCDigest has been reporting on ideas for droned-based readers for the past couple of years. For example, in 2014 we ran article on a company called ADASA, which was pitching a drone-based reader system for taking in-store retail inventory. (See Commercial Drones as Retail RFID Readers?)

Supply Chain Digest Says...

While drones would seem to be a perhaps ideal solution for outdoor storage situations such as this, how long the robots will hold up and under what environmental conditions they can operate remain not fully answered questions.

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With the ADASA system, drones are outfitted with readers and a number of antennas. At some point, the drone flies about the store, hopefully reading every product with an RFID tag on the shelves or hangers, providing a complete snapshot of what products are where.

The problem being solved is that fixed RFID readers don't do a good job tracking inventory as it moves about the store. Handheld readers can do the job pretty well, but requires store personnel to go out on the store floor and take the inventory.

To deliver the solution, ADASA is partnering a third-party company that has automatic navigation, collision avoidance and safe indoor flight technology, with the drones using the sonar technology to avoid collisions with people and objects.

It does not appear from the ADASA web site that the company as yet has any deployment of this drone reader system.

At the ProMat trade show in Chicago in 2015, and then again at the MODEX show a few weeks ago in Atlanta, we ran into a vendor named vendor called PINC Solutions, a leading provider of traditional Yard Management Systems (YMS).

At the shows, PINC featured a drone-based YMS solution, where trailers have RFID tags and the drones an RFID reader, flying around a few times a day to see if everything is where it's supposed to be, and update the YMS with any changes from the past trailer count.

It 2015, it also said it was testing a related application with one retailer for cycle counting DC inventory using tagged pallets.

The company's web site says it is working with third-party logistics company Kenco on the use of drones with its YMS installed at some Kenco sites, but it appears the conversations are just exploratory at this point.

The PINC web site also says the company was recently awarded an exception by the FAA to test its drone-based system.

However, a drone inventory system has in fact been deployed at a distributor called AGE Steel in the United Arab Emirates, which started using RFID drones in 2015 to locate pipes, coils, hot-rolled bars, and plates.

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According to an article this week on the Motherboard.com web site, AGE can now much better track inventory across its 950,000-square-foot outdoor warehouse, and has enabled inventory accuracy to improve from 70% to 99.8% as a result.

The company had struggled to accurately match the system's inventory to the physical inventory, leading to challenges locating a part for an order that the system said should be there.

After the drone system was installed, the average loading time also decreased from nine minutes to just four minutes.

The AGE Steel drone system was created by Exponent Technology Services, a UAE-based company, where we assume the regulations on drone deployment are a bit more relaxed than they are currently in the US. The inventory has active RFID tags, which broadcast their data to the drone readers as they fly by.

While drones would seem to be a perhaps ideal solution for outdoor storage situations such as this, how long the robots will hold up and under what environmental conditions they can operate remain not fully answered questions.

It also turns on that The Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics in Germany is also been working on the potential for such drone inventory tracking. The Institute calls the project InventAIRy, with a goal is to create "flying inventory assistants" to replace people in terms of taking inventory inside a distribution center.

"The autonomous flying robot will soon be capable of independent navigation and inventory administration," the Institute says.

The Institute's web site says that its drone concept would involve the robots perceiving their environment dynamically on two levels. First, they will detect how the warehouse is configured using motion and camera sensors and thus orient themselves within the warehouse. GPS would be used to determine the drone's position in outdoor applications.

The drones then track what specific inventory is where using either RFID or optical systems.


What is your perspective on inventory drones? Smart idea, or not needed given other technologies available? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback section below.

 

Your Comments/Feedback

Craig Leppan

Pilot , DroneScan
Posted on: Nov, 19 2016
We agree that while RFID provides a quick win for inventory scanning by a drone in theory our work with customers show they are still heavily invested in barcodes for stock.

We have developed a scanning system for bardcodes Via drone and are in pilot with some key customers: 
www.dronescan.co
 

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