- Sep 27, 2018-

Some day in the not-too-distant future, drones and robots might roam retail stores and manufacturing facilities, acting as high-tech RFID readers.

We’ve discussed drone reader technology several times over the last year. In a new development, a team of students from the University of Auburn has created a robot capable of reading RFID tags.

Named Jianny 5, after one of its inventors and the lead character in the Short Circuit movies, the robot was developed at the RFID Lab at Auburn. Jason Patton, director of the RFID Lab, says students at the lab are continuing to refine the robot, which could be used for taking inventory at retail locations or even for customer assistance at big box stores.

“It’s been quite a bit more successful than I had anticipated,” says Patton. “We found significant advantages of knowing exactly where the robot is at the time each tag is read in terms of tying it back to location and using that to map out planograms and that sort of thing.”

Patton envisions the day when a robot rolls up to a shelf and visually reads all the items to confirm that they are the same items that the RFID system is reporting. Researchers at the RFID Lab are also looking into developing customer assistance apps for the robot.

“If the robot conducts cycle counts and knows where everything is, I could walk into a store, turn on my store app and search for a blue sweater,” says Patton. “This little robot could then guide me to the right product. It might be really creepy, but when you are in a big store, it can be a long walk between aisles.”

Patton says that outside of retail, the robot could find a home in manufacturing, healthcare and warehousing, although reading products stacked tall in a massive distribution center might present a problem for the unit. In that case, drones could offer assistance. The robot could also be used to read RFID tags and sensors in hazardous environments where human exposure is limited.

The following video was produced by the website AL.com