Inside Unmanned Systems

DEC 2017 - JAN 2018

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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Page 58 of 67

ENGINEERING. PRACTICE. POLICY. 59 unmanned systems inside December 2017/January 2018 Cadenet said, and there's no need to make any changes to the infrastructure. The drone can be flown right out of the box and makes it possible to perform inventory checks more often, while increasing safety and accuracy. Researchers at MIT are also working on a solution to solve the inventory management challenge, and the result of that is RFly, a UAS- based wireless system that scans and locates items. Many retailers use battery-free RFID stickers to track products, but the problem is they have a limited communication range, said Fadel Adib, the Sony Corporation Career Development Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at MIT. Drones could help with this, but the challenge is the cameras they carry would struggle to locate items hidden be- hind another object or under a stack. To overcome this, the team developed a cir- cuit that acts like a reader. Once it's put on a drone, it eliminates the range problem. "The drone forwards information back and forth and doesn't need to do computation, so you're not using computation resources and draining power," Adib said. "The reader shines a signal to power up the sticker, which responds with the identifier. The response is sent back to the reader. The signals are cap- tured back from the wireless stickers to iden- tify them and locate them with high accuracy." The circuit can be placed on any drone, Adib said, and has the ability to capture thousands of RFIDs per second. The team has been working on developing the circuit for about a year, and knew they needed a solution that was safe to f ly around people and that was light enough to be mount- ed on a UAS, Adib said. They also had to make sure they were able to get a very accurate loca- tion, which meant the information being for- warded between the reader and the sticker had to be forwarded quickly. The drone is being tested for safety, and Adib is in talks with companies who are inter- ested in doing full-scale pilots. Looking Ahead As technology continues to evolve, more re- tailers will begin to adopt systems like these to help manage inventory and perform other tasks. Those who don't will likely get left be- hind, Bogolea of Simbe Robotics said. Now is the time to embrace technology, and to learn what works best, whether that means adding au- tomaton to warehouses or im- plementing robots inside stores. There are various technologies available to help make retailers more efficient and there are more on the horizon. "You either adapt or die," Graham of BevMo! said. Eventually, Adib said, the ware- house drones being developed to- day will be able to communicate with robots who can pick the items, rather than sending a human. Robots will begin to routinely help humans with other various warehouse tasks, such as restocking misplaced items, making the process even more efficient. Adding robots is not about taking jobs away from humans, Yearling said, it's about complet- ing jobs that weren't getting done in the past and saving companies from the significant financial losses inventory management problems cause. "What we're seeing now is all about the labor and how to augment and make them (workers) more efficient," Yearling said. "There is a signif- icant future for this type of technology in the short term to augment people. In the warehouse of the future, inventory won't be touched by hu- mans and errors will not occur. This (drones) is just one piece of technology that can do that." We can also expect robots to become a more common sight inside stores, doing their part to enhance efficiencies, save retailers money and ultimately improve the customer experience. "This is something that will really separate retailers," Bogolea said. "Retailers will need to embrace technology to remain relevant." FOR MORE INFO To learn about how self-driving vehicles are being used inside factories, read "Driving Innovation from the Inside" at RELATED STORIES ONLINE Tom Litchford, vice president of retail technology, National Retail Federation " THERE'S A WHOLE CULTURAL SHIFT FROM MY EARLY DAYS IN RETAIL TO TODAY. YOU HAVE TO TRY THESE THINGS TO SEE HOW THEY IMPACT OPERATIONS, BUT YOU ALSO HAVE TO THINK ABOUT IF IT'S REALLY GOING TO SERVE THE CUSTOMER BETTER, AND IF IT DOESN'T WORK, YOU HAVE TO MOVE ON TO SOMETHING ELSE."

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