Disney Research Explores Ways to Add RFID Intelligence to Robots, Toys

Walt Disney Co.'s lab network, together with scientists from MIT, the University of Washington and Carnegie Mellon, has developed systems that the company could use to help robots identify individuals, as well as to track everyday interactions between people and things.
By Claire Swedberg
May 30, 2016

Disney Research, a division of Walt Disney Co. , recently published a spate of academic papers describing novel uses of radio frequency identification and related technologies. These projects could one day help the company to track everyday interactions between people and things, as well as create robots able to identify individuals.

Alanson Sample, a research scientist at Disney Research, described the projects at the RFID Journal LIVE! 2016 conference and exhibition, held earlier this month in Orlando, Fla.

Using the ID-Match system, an autonomous robot hosting an interactive quiz game could accurately identify each of the five human participants.
The authors of one such research paper describe a prototype system called ID-Match, which uses passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID technology to facilitate "natural interactions" between humans and robots. The group has found, through laboratory research and testing, that a hybrid computer-vision and RFID solution can be employed to enable an autonomous robot to quickly identify and localize individuals within a group, thereby allowing for a natural and personalized interaction.

Disney Research scientist Alanson Sample
RapID, one of the other three Disney Research projects described in recently published studies, utilizes passive RFID to create inexpensive, wireless sensing devices for gaming purposes. A third project, known as PaperID, discusses methods for tracking how individuals move or touch a tagged piece of paper, including recording drawn or marked responses via a special pen. The fourth project, EM-ID, focuses on the unique patterns of electromagnetic (EM) waves emitted by electronic devices, and also explores how EM signals can be used to uniquely identify each electronic device, such as a smartphone, a laptop or a Hasbro Lightsaber toy, so that RFID tags or bar codes would not be required. Instead, the researchers measured the unique EM emissions from each electronic object in order to identify it.

Disney Research consists of three labs, located in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and Zurich, comprising 230 principal researchers and 60 staff members and postdoctoral students. The RFID research has been underway at the Pittsburgh lab, but the four projects were also the result of collaborations with scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Washington and Carnegie Mellon University.

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