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Engineering, Analysis and Design

Sunday, November 21, 2021

A robot that finds lost items

This robotic arm fuses data from a camera and antenna to locate and retrieve items, even if they are buried under a pile.

Researchers at MIT have created a robotic system that can do just that. The system, RFusion, is a robotic arm with a camera and radio frequency (RF) antenna attached to its gripper. It fuses signals from the antenna with visual input from the camera to locate and retrieve an item, even if the item is buried under a pile and completely out of view.

The RFusion prototype the researchers developed relies on RFID tags, which are cheap, battery-less tags that can be stuck to an item and reflect signals sent by an antenna. Because RF signals can travel through most surfaces (like the mound of dirty laundry that may be obscuring the keys), RFusion is able to locate a tagged item within a pile.

Using machine learning, the robotic arm automatically zeroes-in on the object’s exact location, moves the items on top of it, grasps the object, and verifies that it picked up the right thing. The camera, antenna, robotic arm, and AI are fully integrated, so RFusion can work in any environment without requiring a special set up.

While finding lost keys is helpful, RFusion could have many broader applications in the future, like sorting through piles to fulfil orders in a warehouse, identifying and installing components in an auto manufacturing plant, or helping an elderly individual perform daily tasks in the home, though the current prototype isn’t quite fast enough yet for these uses.

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