Disney Research Leverages RFID Tech For Low Cost Interactive Games With Physical Objects

Researchers at Disney and Carnegie Mellon University have been toying around with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and we mean that in the literal sense. RFID tags are typically used for high tech inventory management in a variety of industries, but researchers concocted a way to make RFID technology feasible for interactive games using physical objects.

Using a framework the researchers developed called RapID, they showed how inexpensive RFID tags can sense when a physical object is moved or touched in near real-time. The research team demonstrated a handful of use case scenarios. One included a tic-tac-toe board that mirrors the physical game on a computer monitor with added sound effects, while another demonstration showed users playing a Pong clone using real wooden sliders to control the onscreen action.

RapID Spaceship

The team also showed off a music mixer board, a trivia game, and a rudimentary spaceship whose onscreen speed was tracked with a single RFID tag. However, these aren't the full extent of the possible applications. The researchers also envision its RapID framework being used to create things like interactive pop-up books and other things where it's not desirable to rely on batteries or wires.

"You can create interactive objects that are essentially disposable and perhaps even recyclable," said Scott Hudson, professor in Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII).

What the researchers have done is no small feat. RFID was never intended (or envisioned) for interactive toys, not until now anyway. It wasn't built for real-time or near real-time responsiveness, and as an added challenge, RFID readers only energize tags at intervals. Return signals have a tendency to come in random order, and sometimes not at all.

RapID solves these and other roadblocks. It interprets the signals by weighing possibilities instead of waiting on confirmation from RFID tags. Most importantly, it reduces typical lag times from 2 seconds all the way down to 200 milliseconds, which is in the neighborhood of other interactive objects.