RFID-enabled Robots Create Efficiency in the Workplace

Posted by Ken Lynch on Mon, Oct 22, 2012 @ 11:04 AM

RobotsRobots have certainly undergone their share of transformation over the years – from the  stereotypical robot in “Lost in Space” to the child-friendly WALL-E – and I think Kevin Ashton, in a recent RFID Journal article, made a good point in arguing that robots have managed to shed creepy images, but have yet to make the complete transition to being human-like.

One ongoing limitation is that robots have not been able to have a true dialogue with humans - like that between Luke Skywalker and C-3PO, who boasted to be fluent in "over six million forms of communication"! Can RFID bridge this communication gap?

A few years ago, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Duke University embarked on a project where they used ThingMagic readers with robots in a healthcare setting. With long-range read capability, the robot named EL-E can move freely while still being able to detect RFID tags in various locations, and a finger-mounted, short-range antenna enables her to interact with a tagged object, such as handing a stethoscope to a physician.  EL-E can also assist physically-impaired people, giving them the appropriate medicine bottle when they are unable to help themselves. We’ve blogged before about how improving the patient experience can also accelerate the patients’ recovery. A robotic right-hand-man could allow nurses and physicians to spend more time researching, talking to and engaging with their patients, and therefore being able to treat the individual.

Check out another robot from Georgia Tech's Healthcare Robotics Lab -  GATSBII - a PR2 robot from Willow Garage outfitted with patch antennas and a ThingMagic M5e reader, as seen on CNN’s The Big I show!

More recently, and right here in Boston, we are seeing more investment in robot technology with companies like Rethink Robotics looking for new ways to make our industries more efficient and cost-effective. Their flagship product, Baxter, is designed to fit seamlessly into a manufacturing environment to take certain types of work off the hands of employees. Because of the enhanced level of interaction between human and robot, the robot can perform risk-posing tasks such as climbing a tower to do repairs, or repetitive, assembly line work that could free up people to do more complex, value-added tasks. In doing so, people can become more productive and the business is more efficient. And we all know that greater efficiency is the key to success in today’s economy.

The video below demonstrates how Baxter interacts with humans.

With RFID tags becoming more ubiquitous , can this be the technology that breaks down that communication barrier between robots and people?

It may be a while before we can think of a robot like C-3PO as our wing-man, but with RFID we may be able to more naturally interact with the next generation of robots – not in Hollywood - but in the business arena.

Tags: RFID, Healthcare, Manufacturing Automation, Robotics

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