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Active RFID Goes Overhead With Drone-based Reader

Bechtel is piloting Atlas RFID's new reader payload for drones to capture tag reads in large spaces, in remote locations and at high elevations.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 07, 2018

Engineering, procurement and construction firm Bechtel and Birmingham, Ala., technology company Atlas RFID Solutions have piloted a new drone-mounted active RFID reader aimed at enabling inventory reads in a laydown yard and construction area automatically, from overhead. The system consists of a 433 MHz RFID reader attached to the under-carriage of an industrial drone, with active RFID tags affixed to goods, such as pipes that are stored in outdoor yards or are part of a new construction.

Atlas RFID's Jovix Material Readiness software application captures and manages data, including not only the unique ID number of each tag, but also the tag's GPS-based location within approximately 10 meters (32.8 feet), depending on conditions. The system works with most standard industrial drones, the company reports, and the collected read data can be paired with the drone's own software to enable users to program a flight pattern for traveling up and down rows or storage areas in a lawnmower pattern.

Atlas RFID's Jovix Material Readiness software
Many customers using the Jovix active RFID solution with standard readers must capture tag reads in challenging environments. Some industrial yards are large, and there is traffic related to heavy equipment use. In some cases, tagged items are stacked, or are installed on racks of other frames that put them out of reach. Highly metallic environments, as well, can lead to RF signals bouncing around when read from the ground. Companies often use handheld or vehicle-mounted readers, with employees traveling up and down aisles, or through storage and construction areas, to capture the tag IDs of their inventory.

Atlas RFID's Jeff Burns
Last year, Atlas RFID began developing a solution that would take to the skies. Drones are already commonplace on modern constructions sites and at other industrial locations, and many businesses are using them to take images in order to track their work-in-progress. The less than 2-pound Atlas payload, with an RFID reader made by Omni-ID, can be mounted to the bottom of a typical drone. A user can then program the device to travel in specific patterns around a yard or construction site.

Atlas RFID provides Omni-ID P400 tags to transmit data to the reader. The payload employs its own GPS functionality to determine tag location. The collected data is then forwarded, via Wi-Fi or cellular networks, to the cloud-based server, where the Jovix software platform manages that data and provides users with location-based information regarding each tagged item on a map of the area.

The reader can carry its own power source or use the drone's built-in battery. As the drone flies over an area, the reader captures the unique ID of every tag attached to an asset, explains Daniel Bennion, the company's VP of product management. It can rise high enough to interrogate tags at raised elevations—such as 100 feet in the air, as is the case at Bechtel's construction site in Corpus Christi, Texas.

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