Skip to Content
MIT News: 77 Mass Ave

A robot to find lost stuff

Isn’t this what we all need?

December 17, 2021
robotic arm
This fully integrated robotic arm, developed at MIT, fuses visual data from a camera and radio frequency (RF) information from an antenna to find and retrieve items that may be hidden under other objects.Courtesy of the Researchers

Those who embark on an epic quest for misplaced keys every time we try to leave the house could have relief in sight: RFusion, a prototype robotic arm designed at MIT, can locate and retrieve items buried under other things.

RFusion fuses visual input from a camera with information from a radio frequency (RF) antenna attached to its gripper, which bounces signals off cheap, batteryless RFID tags that can be stuck to all kinds of objects. Because RF signals can travel through most surfaces (like a mound of laundry that may be obscuring the keys), RFusion is able to locate a tagged item within a pile.

Using machine learning, the robotic arm zeroes in on the object’s location, moves the items on top of it, grasps it, and verifies that it picked up the right thing. 

If the system gets faster, RFusion could have many broader uses, like fulfilling orders in a warehouse or helping with household tasks. “Having robots that are able to search for things under a pile is a growing need in industry today,” says Fadel Adib, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “Right now, you can think of this as a Roomba on steroids, but in the near term, this could have a lot of applications.”

Keep Reading

Most Popular

DeepMind’s cofounder: Generative AI is just a phase. What’s next is interactive AI.

“This is a profound moment in the history of technology,” says Mustafa Suleyman.

What to know about this autumn’s covid vaccines

New variants will pose a challenge, but early signs suggest the shots will still boost antibody responses.

Human-plus-AI solutions mitigate security threats

With the right human oversight, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence can help keep business and customer data secure

Next slide, please: A brief history of the corporate presentation

From million-dollar slide shows to Steve Jobs’s introduction of the iPhone, a bit of show business never hurt plain old business.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.