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Drone RFID Read Rate Hovers Near 100 Percent in Oil Fields

Researchers at Cal Poly, using RFID technology from technology company Process Expert, confirmed in three pipe-tracking applications that passive RFID tags could be read at near-perfect rates while in flight around 12 feet above those pipes.
By Claire Swedberg

During the first experiment for oilfield equipment, the Cal Poly researchers attached 15-cent RFID tags from Avery Dennison, as well as Alien Technology's Squiggle tags, to each of several dozen pipe caps or three-eighth-inch foam insulators with a zip-tie. The experiment was carried out at Cal Poly's experimental flight research test center, located near San Luis Obispo.

The team mounted a Process Expert RFID reader system on a DJI s900 Spreading Wings drone. The Process Expert reader includes an embedded ThingMagic Mercury 6e module and an MTI Wireless Edge reader antenna.

The group designed their own enclosure to house the system, which also included a host computer and a battery power source. The entire system weighed 7.3 pounds. They mounted tags on pipes, facing up, at six different heights and at two-foot intervals, ranging from ground level to 12 feet above the surface.

According to the university, the team found that the drone was typically able to read the passive UHF RFID tags at a distance of about 12 feet. At this distance, the group got close to achieving a 100 percent read rate, Freed says. The data was downloaded with a USB drive to Process Expert's own software, hosted on a laptop. The tag IDs were linked to the drone's GPS-based location, in order to assign a specific location to each tagged pipe.

The team conducted a second test at a Santa Maria Energy holding site for oil-drilling pipes. In this case, the tags were built onto insulation strips and were affixed directly to those pipes. With the drone hovering for about two minutes in each zone, it was able to read all tags at a distance of approximately 3 meters (9.8 feet).

During a third experiment, carried out at a Cal Poly pipe-storage area, the group set up a system to track hot water pipes. The tags were insulated and were attached directly to the pipes. With a two-minute hover time, at a 2.5-meter (8.2-foot) distance, they were able to read the tags at a 95 percent accuracy rate.

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