RF-Compass: Robot Object Manipulation Using RFID

Jue Wang, Fadel Adib, Ross Knepper, Dina Katabi, and Daniela Rus. 2013. RF-compass: robot object manipulation using RFIDs. In Procs of the 19th annual international conference on Mobile computing & networking (MobiCom ’13). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 3-14.


Modern robots have to interact with their environment, search for objects, and move them around. Yet, for a robot to pick up an object, it needs to identify the object’s orientation and locate it to within centimeter-scale accuracy. Existing systems that provide such information are either very expensive (e.g., the VICON motion capture system valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars) and/or suffer from occlusion and narrow field of view (e.g., computer vision approaches).

This paper presents RF-Compass, an RFID-based system for robot navigation and object manipulation. RFIDs are low-cost and work in non-line-of-sight scenarios, allowing them to address the limitations of existing solutions. Given an RFID-tagged object, RF-Compass accurately navigates a robot equipped with RFIDs toward the object. Further, it locates the center of the object to within a few centimeters and identifies its orientation so that the robot may pick it up. RF-Compass’s key innovation is an iterative algorithm formulated as a convex optimization problem. The algorithm uses the RFID signals to partition the space and keeps refining the partitions based on the robot’s consecutive moves.We have implemented RF-Compass using USRP software radios and evaluated it with commercial RFIDs and a KUKA youBot robot. For the task of furniture assembly, RF-Compass can locate furniture parts to a median of 1.28 cm, and identify their orientation to a median of 3.3 degrees.