Ultra high frequency (UHF) radio-frequency identification (RFID) for robot perception and mobile manipulation
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Personal robots with autonomy, mobility, and manipulation capabilities have the potential to dramatically improve quality of life for various user populations, such as older adults and individuals with motor impairments. Unfortunately, unstructured environments present many challenges that hinder robot deployment in ordinary homes. This thesis seeks to address some of these challenges through a new robotic sensing modality that leverages a small amount of environmental augmentation in the form of Ultra High Frequency (UHF) Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags. Previous research has demonstrated the utility of infrastructure tags (affixed to walls) for robot localization; in this thesis, we specifically focus on tagging objects. Owing to their low-cost and passive (battery-free) operation, users can apply UHF RFID tags to hundreds of objects throughout their homes. The tags provide two valuable properties for robots: a unique identifier and receive signal strength indicator (RSSI, the strength of a tag's response). This thesis explores robot behaviors and radio frequency perception techniques using robot-mounted UHF RFID readers that enable a robot to efficiently discover, locate, and interact with UHF RFID tags applied to objects and people of interest. The behaviors and algorithms explicitly rely on the robot's mobility and manipulation capabilities to provide multiple opportunistic views of the complex electromagnetic landscape inside a home environment. The electromagnetic properties of RFID tags change when applied to common household objects. Objects can have varied material properties, can be placed in diverse orientations, and be relocated to completely new environments. We present a new class of optimization-based techniques for RFID sensing that are robust to the variation in tag performance caused by these complexities. We discuss a hybrid global-local search algorithm where a robot employing long-range directional antennas searches for tagged objects by maximizing expected RSSI measurements; that is, the robot attempts to position itself (1) near a desired tagged object and (2) oriented towards it. The robot first performs a sparse, global RFID search to locate a pose in the neighborhood of the tagged object, followed by a series of local search behaviors (bearing estimation and RFID servoing) to refine the robot's state within the local basin of attraction. We report on RFID search experiments performed in Georgia Tech's Aware Home (a real home). Our optimization-based approach yields superior performance compared to state of the art tag localization algorithms, does not require RF sensor models, is easy to implement, and generalizes to other short-range RFID sensor systems embedded in a robot's end effector. We demonstrate proof of concept applications, such as medication delivery and multi-sensor fusion, using these techniques. Through our experimental results, we show that UHF RFID is a complementary sensing modality that can assist robots in unstructured human environments.