Picking robot finds objects by "seeing through walls"
Robots are now regularly used in applications such as picking purchased items from shipping warehouses … but most of them still can't see through walls. That said, a new bot is essentially able to do so, with a little outside help.
Known as RF-Grasp, the experimental device was designed by an MIT team led by Assoc. Prof. Fadel Abid.
The robot itself is equipped with an articulated grasping arm with an optical camera on its wrist, which allows it to identify target objects based on their appearance. However, if that object is in a bin on the far side of a wall – or if it's buried under other items within that bin – the robot can't see it, and thus can't locate it.
In order to get around that problem, a separate RF (radio frequency) transceiver is set up in the area in which the robot is operating. That device emits radio signals, which are reflected back by an RF label on the target object – even through walls. As is the case with other existing RFID systems, that label modulates the return signal in a unique manner, conveying information such as its location and what it's attached to.
Once the transceiver has thus determined where the item in question is, it wirelessly transmits that information to the RF-Grasp robot. Upon reaching that general location, the robot uses its camera to visually guide its arm, moving aside clutter until it spots and grasps the desired object.
"It starts by using RF to focus the attention of vision," says Adib. "Then you use vision to navigate fine maneuvers."
The technology, which is still in development, is demonstrated in the following video.