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Drones Demonstrate Futuristic Inventory Taking at CeBIT

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Flying robots for inventory control? It might sound like science fiction, but a special event at this year’s DRONEMASTERS Summit in March demonstrated that drones are ready to perform autonomous inventory checks.

As part of the DRONEMASTERS “Inventory of the Future” project, specially designed radio-controlled flying machines, called hexacopters, were put to the test. Moving through what was called an “Auto-ID Parkour,” the drones navigated five specially-built areas to locate and log objects, and then sent the data to a web-based solution that displayed real-time inventory status.

Autonomous Action

Each section of the simulated warehouse environment was stocked with storage boxes equipped with NXP UCODE UHF IC’s. The drones, equipped with RAIN RFID readers, made their way through the warehouse areas using RAIN RFID technology to identify the boxes individually and in batches. The drones then sent the collected data back to the web-based solution, where it was displayed in an easy-to-read, highly accurate visualization of real-time inventory.

Kurt Bischof, global senior marketing manager from NXP Semiconductors, explains that until recently, usually somebody physically walks by the shelves and scans the goods with a RFID handheld reader device. However, in two to three years, small drones will be able to fly autonomously by the shelves just before a retail store opens to capture real-time inventory data.

The demonstration showed that flying robots are ready to do business. It is anticipated that drones will be able to guide themselves to the appropriate location, using sensors that observed and analyzed the surrounding environment, and are able to identify the objects designated for tracking.

In a commercial setup, the collected inventory data could be processed, analyzed, and used for further planning and management processes, creating an inventory-control system that has the potential to be more accurate, efficient, and automated than ever before.

A Team Effort

The parkour setup was the result of a unique collaboration of private and public-sector organizations. The demonstration used RAIN RFID technology from NXP Semiconductors, along with the logistic solution from Goodstag and the label-maker RAKO Group. The drones were provided by InventAIRy, a research project driven by Bonn University, the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML), Widemann, Panop, and Aibotix, and funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic and Energy, as part of the technology program “AUTONOMIX of Industry 4.0.”

Just the Beginning

While the DRONEMASTERS parkour was designed to highlight commercial drone applications, the event made clear that, as drones become part of the technical infrastructure, they will enable many new applications, in everything from logistics and agriculture to public services, healthcare, and the security sector.

To learn more, visit the CeBIT site for the DRONEMASTERS Summit.

To receive additional information and watch videos of the drones in action visit NXP-RFID.

About the Author:  Kurt Bischof received his master’s degree in Technical Mathematics/Informatics at the Technical University Graz. He joined NXP Semiconductors in Gratkorn, Austria in 1995. Today he holds the global responsibility for Segment Marketing at NXP Semiconductors for RFID based applications Inventory Management, Supply Chain Efficiency and Production Automation. Vertical markets include Retail, Automotive, Food, Electronic, Medical and Libraries.

 

 

 

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