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RFID Robots On The Horizon

CNET ran an article last week on the developments in RFID-enabled robots, a field that is fast moving from science fiction to reality.
Jul 11, 2005This article was originally published by RFID Update.

July 11, 2005—CNET ran an article last week on the developments in RFID-enabled robots, a field that is fast moving from science fiction to reality. Highlighted is Japan's Secom, whose Robot X can act as an automated guardian of RFID-tagged children. For $2,700/month, the Robot X will sound an alarm whenever one of the tagged children gets out of range. It can also film the situation, feeding the footage in realtime back to a central server, as well as charge after a supposed kidnapper that is found to be in range of the children without permission.

If such RFID-enabled robots sound too Jetsons-esque, consider some of the heavyweights that are actively researching the possibilities: IBM, Hewlett Packard, and Mitsubishi. There is buzz in academia as well. A Utah State University professor is conducting research into using RFID-enabled robots to assist the blind, and a Michigan State University student built an RFID robot using equipment from RFID manufacturer Intermec, a Wi-Fi positioning system from Ekahau, and a stripped-down Roomba, the robot vacuum cleaner. Then there is Frontline Robotics, a startup aiming to release a commercially available RFID robot. The company is in talks with an unnamed major RFID tag supplier to combine their technologies, an outcome the company predicts could result in thousands of sold units in 2006.

One of the obvious hurdles to RFID robots, aside from perfecting the technology itself, is that it requires an environment to be equipped with tags. Without tags to read, the robot is worthless, no matter how well it works. It is this reality that has caused some companies to focus their research on RFID robot usage in the warehouse. Given the increasing use of RFID in the supply chain, there will be plenty of tags to read in a supply chain environment. Contrast this to the consumer arena, where there is no meaningful uptake of tag purchasing.

Despite the enthusiasm, reservations remain that RFID robots are worthwhile, at least in the supply chain. CNET quoted HP Labs' chief technologist for RFID Salil Vijaykumar Pradhan as saying, "I'm looking at commercial and enterprise environments, and I see other things being more practical... Robots are not the solution to every problem. A simpler solution is the preferred one." A fair point indeed, but who would have thought a few short years ago that the technology would have advanced to today's level? As Kevin Ashton of RFID reader manufacturer ThingMagic put it, RFID robots are "certainly a cool concept that's out there and not completely ridiculous."

Read the full article at CNET News.com
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