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Robot Employs RFID to Manage Warehouse Inventory

Fetch Robotics has built Sick RFID technology into its TagSurveyor robot, with which logistics providers and retailers can gain data about tagged inventory without requiring handheld or fixed readers.
By Claire Swedberg

If a large facility is employing multiple TagSurveyor robots, its data can be stored on a single cloud-based server platform. Users can then dispatch the robot onto its automatic RFID read cycle. As the device moves throughout a facility, it interrogates UHF RFID tags at a distance of up to 25 feet, depending on the transmission power and tag quality, and stores that read data, along with the robot's location. "In one pass," Lau says, "an RFID [robot] can read pallets at ground level and on shelves dozens of feet off the ground."

While manual RFID tag reads can average approximately 75 to 80 percent accuracy (indicating on which shelf or in which aisle a tag is located), Fetch Robotics reports, the TagSurveyor's read accuracy is close to 100 percent. "It's been a very reliable tool," Lau says, in the deployments that have taken place at large third-party-logistics provider companies, as well as in the warehouses of several large manufacturers.

Fetch's Joe Lau
The system is available on a "no money down service agreement subscription model," Lau says, or for outright purchase. The robot's rechargeable batteries have about a nine-hour lifespan, after which they require a three-hour recharging period. The TagSurveyor uses the company's wide-angle laser scanner and 3D sensor, among other devices, to accomplish navigation. The reader can use multiple antennas to identify the direction from which tags are read.

Fetch Robotics argues that robots provide a more effective inventory-tracking system than drones—in part, because they have a longer battery life than most drones. What's more, robots can move indoors, such as in areas containing low ceilings, which drones cannot access.

Sick sells a variety of sensor technologies and RFID readers, including the UHF RFU630 built into the Fetch robots. The reader comes with two antennas built in to detect the angle of RFID tags, in a single plane, as they move down a conveyor, says Daniel Thomas, Sick's business-development manager. The RFMS system is designed for baggage tracking at airports, as well as for reading tags in the logistics and retail sectors, in which boxes or pallets loaded with products pass through a portal tunnel. The reader uses built-in algorithms to calculate the direction from which a tag responds to interrogation, as well as its movement.

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