Boxes are everywhere: The United States Postal Service shipped 5.2 billion packages in 2016, while Amazon shipped 1 billion packages just for the holidays. A single Girl Scout has sold an astounding 101,100 boxes of cookies.
Keeping track of all these boxes is a real pain. Retailers, shipping companies, and manufacturers are always looking for better ways to manage inventory. In recent years, they’ve begun using RFID tags to track boxes from warehouses to trucks to retail stores and then to customers’ homes.
But RFID tags aren’t perfect—at every step, employees must scan each tag with an RFID reader. These scans must be done at close range, because RFID tags harness power from the signal the reader transmits to them.
Recently, researchers have begun to investigate other ways for these industries to trace items, including systems that can snap photos of labels or identify shipments by other visual cues. Now, an MIT group thinks they have an even better answer.