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RFID Reading Drone Tested in Asia Warehouses

SATO and AeroLion have completed a proof-of-concept for an RFID reading drone that captures tag reads at warehouses in Thailand and Singapore, for goods stacked up to 10 meters in height.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 03, 2020

Drone company AeroLion Technologies has launched a proof-of-concept with automatic-identification solutions firm SATO to provide a passive UHF RFID inventory-tracking solution that can take to the air. The system consists of a high-powered RFID reader and antenna mounted on a compact drone that can fly through a warehouse, capturing inventory counts. The two companies developed the solution with the support of the Yamato Group Research Institute.

Traditional UHF RFID tag reading requires a handheld or vehicle-mounted reader to travel through the aisles of a warehouse, capturing RFID reads from the ground level. That process requires personnel to be on the warehouse floor, which costs a company extra labor hours and increases traffic in the warehouse.

Left: the RFID inventory-tracking drone, jointly designed by AeroLion Technologies and SATO; right: the drone, with an RFID reader, flies along high shelves to read RFID-tagged goods on pallets.
Goods are often stacked high enough that reading their tags can prove challenging for the top shelves. That means some RFID tags may not be captured, and that goods can be missed during inventory counts. In some cases, warehouse workers must climb a ladder to read the highest RFID tags or scan barcodes on the boxes or pallets. "Considering the safety of workers, we decided to utilize drones," says Kazuhiro Chatani, SATO's head of logistics business.

AeroLion and SATO have built a potential solution to these problems. They began testing the system with help from the Yamato Group Research Institute, an organization established in 2016 to solve social issues through logistics. AeroLion manufactures and sells drones that can accomplish barcode scans as part of its warehouse-management solution. "It is a result of years of research and development with industry partners," says Wang Fei, AeroLion Technologies' CEO.

The drones typically fly over barcoded products, scanning 2D or 1D barcodes, thereby saving time warehouse personnel would otherwise spend manually counting goods. However, if UHF RFID tags are attached to products, the capturing of data can be accomplished faster and without a line of site required between the drone and the tag. Although there are RFID-reading drones available on the market, they tend to be large in order to support the weight of an RFID reader, which means they are not nimble enough to be flown indoors.

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