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Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a hot technology that uses small passive devices that radiate a digital signature when exposed to a radio frequency signal. RFID is found in products ranging from toys to trucking, farm animal inventories, automobile manufacturing, and more, including replacing the bar codes used at retail checkouts. A transmitter/receiver, called the interrogator or reader, radiates a low- or mediumfrequency carrier RF signal. If it is within range, a passive (unpowered) or active (powered) detector, called a tag or transponder, re-radiates (or backscatters) the carrier frequency, along with a digital signature that uniquely identifies the device. RFID systems in use today operate on several common RF bands, including a low-speed 100 to 150 kHz band and a higher 13.5 MHz band. The tag is composed of an antenna coil along with an integrated circuit. The radio signal provides power when used with passive tags, using well-known RF field induction principles. Inside the integrated circuit are decoding electronics and a small memory. A variety of data transmission schemes are used, including non-return-to-zero, frequency shift keying, and phase shift keying. Manufacturers of the RFID devices tend to favor one system over another for specific applications. Some data modulation schemes are better at long distances, for example. Different RFID tags have different amounts of memory, but a common device might provide for 64 to 128 bits of data. This is more than enough to serve as room-by-room or locale-by-locale beacons. The advantage RFID has over infrared beacons (see earlier in this chapter) is that the coverage of the RF signal is naturally limited. While this limitation can certainly be a disadvantage, when properly deployed it can serve as a convenient way to differentiate between different areas of a house s robotic work space. The average working distance between interrogator and tag is several feet, though this varies greatly depending on the power output of the interrogator. Units with higher RF power can be used over longer distances. For room-by-room robotics use, however, a unit with limited range is preferred, which also means a less expensive system.
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While RFID systems are not complex, their cost can be a bit expensive for hobbyists. Demonstration and developers kits are available from some manufacturers for $100 to $200, and this includes the reader and an assortment of tags. However, once implemented RFID is a low-maintenance, long-term solution for helping your robot know where it is.
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As mentioned, humans navigate the real world by using landmarks: the red barn on the way to work signals you re getting close to your turnoff. Robots can use the same kind of visual cues to help them navigate a space. Landmarks can be natural a support pillar in a warehouse for example or they can be artificial reflectors, posts, or bar codes positioned just for use by the robot. A key benefit of landmark recognition is that most systems are easy to install, cheap, and when done properly, unmistakable from the robot s point of view. Wide Field Bar Code One technique to consider is the use of wide-field bar codes, which are commonly used in warehouses for quick and easy inventory. The bar code pattern is printed very large, perhaps as tall as 2 in and as wide as a foot. A traditional laser bar code reader then scans the code. The large size of the bar code makes it possible to use the bar code reader even from a distance 10 to 20 ft or more. You can adapt the same method to help your robot navigate from room to room, and even within a room. For each location you want to identify, print up a large bar code. Free and low-cost bar code printing software is available over the Internet and in several commercial packages. You can either make or purchase a wide-field bar code scanner and connect it to your robot s computer or microcontroller. As your robot roams about, the scanner can be constantly looking for bar codes. The laser light output from the scanner is very low and, if properly manufactured, is well within safe limits even if the beam should quickly scan past the eyes of people or animals. Door Frame Flags Yet another technique that merits consideration is the use of reflective tape placed around the frames of doors. Doorways are uniquely helpful in robot navigation because in the human world we tend to leave the space around them open and uncluttered. This allows us to enter and exit a room without tripping over something. It also typically means that the line of sight of the door will not be blocked, creating a reliable landmark for a robot. Imagine vertical strips of reflective tape on either side of the doorway. These strips could reflect the light from a scanning laser mounted on the robot, as shown in Fig. 33-16. The laser light would be reflected from the tape and received by a sensor on the robot. Since the speed of the laser scan is known, the timing between the return pulses of the reflected laser light would indicate the relative distance between the robot and the doorway. You could use additional tape strips to reduce the ambiguity that results when the robot approaches the doorway at an angle. Or consider using a CCD or CMOS camera. The robot could use several high-output infrared LEDs to illuminate the tape strips. Since the tape is much more reflective than the walls or door frame, it returns the most light. The CCD or CMOS camera is set with a high contrast ratio, so it effectively ignores anything but the bright tapes. Assuming the robot is positioned straight ahead of the door, the tapes will appear to be parallel. The distance between the tapes indicates the distance between the robot and the doorway. Should the
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