PAL Robotics Rolls Out Tag-Reading Robot

The Barcelona firm expects to provide the newest version of its motorized StockBot to retailers for long-term pilots later this year, to count inventory by reading RFID tags.
By Claire Swedberg

Typically, Ramos says, stores would then need to make a new map and reconfigure the route. "We don't like this solution," he notes. "It implies that a person has to make the configuration every few days." Instead, he says, when the StockBot encounters changes to its environment, based on data from its sensors, it can automatically modify the navigation route stored in its software.

"All this navigation work has been tested in Barcelona Outlet," Ramos states, as well as at several larger stores that have asked to remain unnamed.

PAL Robotics' Sergio Ramos
In addition to lasers and 3-D cameras to identify its location and move around obstacles, the StockBot has Impinj R420 readers and eight antennas onboard to capture RFID tag ID numbers and link them with its location. That location is determined via data from the robot's laser and camera sensors and odometer (which measures distance by tracking the number of times that the unit's wheels revolve). PAL Robotics software then receives all of that data via a Wi-Fi connection and displays it on a map.

When first deploying StockBot in a store, a retailer employs the wireless joystick to move the robot forward, back, left and right, in order to map out the area. The company then accesses that map via the StockBot's graphical user interface to indicate where on that map it wants inventory counts to take place. The robot stores that data and can then travel through that area autonomously, reading tags at a distance of approximately 1 meter (3.3 feet). The speed at which the machine moves is set according to the environment—for instance, a store containing a lot of tight turns, or the presence of shoppers during the business day, would require a much slower pace to accomplish inventory counts. Testing carried out by PAL Robotics has shown that if the environment is fairly simple, a 1,500-square-meter (16,160-square-foot) space can be fully scanned within about an hour while a store is closed. With that in mind, Ramos says, the robot can typically take an inventory count of an entire store within a single night.

"A store is a very dynamic environment," Ramos says. "We designed the StockBot to adapt to that." He says the third version's slim form factor—about 6 feet in height, and 1.6 feet in width and depth—as well as its ability to be easily programmed by a user for a specific route make it one of the best options for a retail-based RFID reading robot.

The robot detects its own location on the mapped-out route, based on its own sensor data, and that location is stored with each RFID tag read. The software then links that location with the tag's ID number and can display that product's location on a map.

The software can be used not only for inventory collection, Ramos says, but also for analytics. Stores could collect data regarding the locations of tagged goods, for instance, and compare that information against sales data to determine when goods from specific parts of the store are selling more often than items located elsewhere. PAL Robotics' software can be integrated with the user's own store-management software.

Ramos says his company is presently in discussions with several customers located throughout Europe, including larger retailers that already have RFID tags on their goods and have stores large enough that it can be too time-consuming to perform manual reading via a handheld device. Some of PAL Robotics' potential customers have not RFID-tagged their goods, he adds, but are in the process of launching such a deployment and hope to use the robot.

PAL Robotics will be exhibiting at the RFID Journal LIVE! conference, in Orlando, Fla., on May 3-5, at Booth 549, where it will be demonstrating its StockBot robot.

This story originally appeared in RFID Journal.

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