Big warehouses, small solutions: RFID puts wings on and becomes RFLY


What do retail theft prevention, the fight against counterfeiting and shopping self-service have in common? That’s right: they all are fields of application of RFID tags. However, it is inventory management the area that has hitherto most clearly proven how useful this tool is.

In fact, store managers use RFID tags to control inventory so as to save time and resources compared to a standard barcode system. Yet, bigger and bigger warehouses require smarter solutions than simple RFID tags. Do you know that a complete evaluation of a company’s inventory can take months in some cases?

In 2013, Walmart lost $3 billion dollars over discrepancies between inventory records and actual stock. Almost five years later, it seems that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has found the solution advocated by many. Acknowledging the need for a more dynamic inventory management system, the researchers at MIT have developed drones capable of reading RFID tags from tens of meters away within a 19-centimeter radius of accuracy: they are called RFly.

The warehouses of large stores can now benefit from totally error-free continuous monitoring, with which to locate each item and fulfil orders in the shortest possible time. During the RFly development process, the research team had to overcome a big challenge connected to safety.

During a first experimental phase, the researchers used small plastic drones which would not pose a threat to workers in case of a collision. Unfortunately, these drones were not powerful enough to support the weight of an RFID reader. A simple and clever solution was then found: to make the drones work as mere data transmitters between the RFID reader and the product. Always under a human operator’s supervision!

It seems just a matter of time before these drones will go from the MIT laboratories to the warehouses of the biggest international stores. The future of logistics is just around the corner!