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RFID-Reading drone tracks structural steel products in storage yard.

Age Steel, a United Arab Emirates (UAE) company that operates steel yards in Dubai, has taken radio frequency identification technology to new heights, through its use of an RFID reader mounted on a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly called a drone. The steel yard autonomous tracking solution, provided by UAE technology services startup Exponent Technology Services, enables Age Steel to quickly and accurately track the locations of pipes, plates and other metal products stored onsite.

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Unmanned systems conference 2014 – Israel

According to RFID Journal, Age Steel imports structural steel products, such as pipes, plates, coils, angles and hot-rolled bars, and sells them for use on construction projects throughout the Middle East. The company operates three yards in Dubai and a fourth in Saudi Arabia, and the steel pieces at each location are stored in bundles. A staff member writes each bundle’s ID number in chalk on its label. After that, approximately twice a year, personnel would conduct an inventory count of what was stored within each yard.

If a bundle was purchased and needed to be picked and shipped from one of the yards, workers at that location had to walk around the yard manually searching for it. According to the company, this could be a time-consuming and highly unpleasant process, since temperatures in the yards typically reach 45 to 50 degrees Celsius (113 degrees to 122 degrees Fahrenheit). If the product could not be located, Age Steel would have to go to one of its own local competitors and buy the same item from them at an elevated price—meaning that there would typically be no profit, or even a loss in the sale, if the firm failed to negotiate a replacement.