The system could enable greater collaboration and precision by robots working on packaging and assembly, and by swarms of drones carrying out search-and-rescue missions.
In a paper being presented next week at the USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation, the researchers show that robots using the system can locate tagged objects within 7.5 milliseconds, on average, and with an error of less than a centimeter.
In the system, called TurboTrack, an RFID (radio-frequency identification) tag can be applied to any object.
A reader sends a wireless signal that reflects off the RFID tag and other nearby objects, and rebounds to the reader.
As with its human counterpart, computer vision is limited by what it can see, and it can fail to notice objects in cluttered environments.
Radio frequency signals have no such restrictions: They can identify targets without visualization, within clutter and through walls.