Smaller Autonomous Drones Read RFID Tags Indoors

Just when you thought, or were told, drones could do it all, some clever batch of people add another function to the mix. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab rips out a radio frequency identification (RFID) system lets users capture tag reads with a small autonomous drone carrying a virtual antenna array. The system essentially forwards data between the RFID tags and a reader.


The system is called RFly and, in operation, it places the RFID reader on earth along with relays for capturing RF signals. The relays forward signals to the RFID tags that bounce them back to the reader. The result is small, lightweight autonomous drones can cruise large indoor environments such as shopping malls, enclosed sports arenas, etc., fly over the relays and capture data from the tags and transmit back to the reader.

As one example application, according to the researchers, this can provide an alternative to traditional inventory tracking processes in large warehouses. Since a small drone cannot support a reader’s weight and a larger drone would prove unsafe for the target applications, the MIT solution of keeping the reader on the ground appears to be the ideal solution, for now.

The researchers’ test drone measures 30 cm x 40 cm and can carry a device weighing up to 200g. Interestingly, the relay weighs 30g, which means they can even use a smaller drone. There you go, it won’t be long before they come up with something else for those autonomous drones. For now, a video is available of the MIT drone in action.