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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

There were some limitations. Since the drone and reader system weighed about 12.1 pounds, the battery life was only around 15 minutes before recharging was required. That meant drones would need to be landed, and batteries would need to be replaced before the devices could return to the air. In a large storage area, Freed says, a dedicated person would be needed to "babysit" the drone, perhaps even using a truck to follow it and provide a landing point whenever battery replacement became necessary.

Because most oilfield sites may lack a Wi-Fi network, Freed explains, users would typically extract data from the drone following a flight using a USB flash drive. Passive RFID tracking is the most cost-effective solution, the group found, and the simplest to install, with tags that can be zip-tied or adhered directly to pipes. Tags with insulation and waterproofing would cost about $1 each, Freed estimates. The cost of a UAV with an RFID reader and software to manage the collected data would raise deployment costs to approximately $7,400, with an additional $1 for each tag.

Tali Freed
The researchers sampled active RFID tags for use on cattle as well, where RFCode tags and readers were used. To simulate cattle in a field, tags were placed on the ground, or held by the researchers. The team then flew the drone over the cattle at varying heights. Next month, they will further test with tags attached to collars on cattle. They found that they could read the tags at about 40 to 50 feet above ground, but that if drones needed to decrease that elevation (based on terrain) to just a dozen feet or more above the animals, the tags could be read. Freed notes that drones don't appear to disturb cattle.

For applications such as cattle tracking, Freed notes, "there are advantages to active RFID." She adds that "you can store more data on a tag," such as an animal's health or immunization records, and sensors could be connected to the tags, such as pedometers to identify how much an animal has been moving.

Process Expert is just now releasing do-it-yourself RFID systems with readers that can be mounted easily to shelves, carts, forklifts, dock doors and portals, and data that can be retrieved as a Microsot Excel file via e-mail, Wi-Fi or a USB flash drive. It is now also offering the drone-enabled RFID tracking system.

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