Drone Relays for Battery-Free Networks

Drone Relays for Battery-Free Networks. Yunfei Ma, Nicholas Selby, and Fadel Adib. ACM SIGCOMM 2017


Battery-free sensors, such as RFIDs, are annually attached to billions of items including pharmaceutical drugs, clothes, and manufacturing parts. The fundamental challenge with battery-free sensors is that they are only reliable at short distances of tens of centimeters to few meters. As a result, today's systems for communicating with and localizing battery-free sensors are crippled by the limited range.

To overcome this challenge, this paper presents RFly, a system that leverages drones as relays for battery-free networks. RFly delivers two key innovations. It introduces the first full-duplex relay for battery-free networks. The relay can seamlessly integrate with a deployed RFID infrastructure, and it preserves phase and timing characteristics of the forwarded packets. RFly also develops the first RF-localization algorithm that can operate through a mobile relay.

We built a hardware prototype of RFly's relay into a custom PCB circuit and mounted it on a Parrot Bebop drone. Our experimental evaluation demonstrates that RFly enables communication with commercial RFIDs at over 50 m. Moreover, its through-relay localization algorithm has a median accuracy of 19 centimeters. These results demonstrate that RFly provides powerful primitives for communication and localization in battery-free networks.

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