Is RFID a Hobbyist Tool Yet?

Engadget, one of our favorite online sources of interesting and “wow” technology stuff, just ran an article on super-RFID tags and the Department of Homeland Security. The obvious twist on that story is the invasion of privacy angle, and of course that is a serious concern. But it also got us thinking more deeply about the application of RFID tags to more mundane problems - like how your robot might know its location and how it might follow you around . . .

There are already extensive experiments underway, like the NTT Communications RFID based shopping mall robot system, that will soon result in practical applications of the technology.

We may be overly optimistic about how quickly it will happen, we usually are in cases like this. But within the next two to five years we expect to see RFID technology become extremely commonplace if not ubiquitous.

Just a few years ago the cost of a single RFID tag was around $1, which was too expensive for even natural applications like garment tags or even shipping box tracking systems for FedEx or UPS. Now the prices have dropped radically, and are expected to continue dropping as the volume of tags put into use ramps up.

Will RFID technology become a useful part of the robot developers toolbox, even at the hobbyist level? We definitely believe it will. The handwriting is already on the wall.

For example, the Japanese shopping robot ‘proof of concept’ experiment utilizes RFID tags hidden under the carpet. Rather than use vision recognition systems that are still too involved, complex, and expensive for the application, the designers opted for a simplier, more reliable (at least given the current state of the technology), and cheaper approach.

Originally uploaded by buru.

To enable the robot to follow and support its assigned shopper, the robot follows a RFID tag embedded in a badge worn by the shopper.

For less demanding applications, like having a robot navigate an office or a room at home, it might not be necessary to layout a large grid of the tags under the flooring. A few RFID tags ? basically location markers strategically placed, may turn out to be the most effective solution. They could be used for area or room marking to restrict or encourage the robot’s explorations, to track and follow you or your dog, or many other applications.

Or, how about hacking together a “valuables security system” with tags on your precious items so that your home security robot can run down the street in hot pursuit of the thief that just did a smash and grab at your apartment. . . ?

The technology will probably also present some challenges to the judges for robot competitions. We can easily imagine some enterprising robot developer secretly seeding a Robo-Magellan course with hidden RFID tags so that their robot could easily run away with the top prize.

Technical and ‘geek’ books on implementing and hacking RFID technology, like "RFID Toys" by Amal Graafstra, are starting to appear, and there is even a “RFID for Dummies” book available. It’s only a matter of time before we see new, and even startlingly creative, application of the technology by robot developers and hobbyists.

Note: If you are working on, or know of any projects along these lines, let us know. We’d love to learn about it, and would consider publishing an article about the application.

Related links:

Department of Homeland Security and super-RFID tags - Engadget article


One thought on “Is RFID a Hobbyist Tool Yet?

  1. Dear sir,
    Please send me any information about security mobile robot for my factory.

    Best regards,


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