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“LOST in SPACE”: DEI's team tested successfully a passive radio localization system on the Mars Rover at the European Space Agency (ESA)

The final demonstration of the project “LOST – Localization of Objects in Space through RF Tags“ took place at the European Space Agency (ESA)

On December 6th 2017 the final demonstration of the project “LOST – Localization of Objects in Space through RF Tags“ took place at the European Space Agency (ESA), ESTEC site, Noordwijk, Holland.

The “signature” of the project is by the Department of Electrical Energy and Information Engineering (DEI) – “Guglielmo Marconi”, University of Bologna, Cesena Campus, winner of the international call opened by ESA together with the Belgian partner University Catolique of Louvain (UCL).

The research activity at DEI has been coordinated by Prof. Davide Dardari in collaboration with Prof. Alessandra Costanzo, Aldo Romani and Diego Masotti, and with the fundamental contribution of several young researchers: Davide Fabbri, Anna Guerra, Nicolò Decarli, Marco Fantuzzi and Jurgis Alessandrivikus.

The main objective of the “LOST” project is to study radio technologies able to localize with centimeter-level accuracy batteryless tags inside the International Space Station (ISS). In the ISS any tool may float everywhere because of the absence of gravity. Every minute lost by astronauts to look for them could cost thousands Euros. Recently a tool has been found after 3 months it was lost.

The requirements from ESA were very challenging considering the system shall operate in critical conditions such as the presence of obstacles, metal and hence several reflections of the electromagnetic wave. From that the necessity to work in team with different and highly specialized skills, such as for example, in the design of advanced signal processing algorithms for radio communications, efficient energy harvesting techniques, ultra-wide band antennas, as well as low-power electronics.

The system developed transfers the energy to the tags via radio signals; once energized, tags emit a coded sequence of ultra-wide band pulses towards the infrastructure that acquires and processes them thus calculating the position of tags with centimeter-level accuracy through the estimation of the time-of-arrival of the signals. The project lasted 18 months and led to the implementation of all designed hardware and software components subsequently integrated in a complete system at UCL premises.

The functionality and performance of the LOST system have been successfully tested by the UNIBO-UCL team, under the supervision of ESA staff, directly on the Mars Rover prototype in the Automation and Robotics Laboratories at ESA.

The developed technology anticipates a not so far away time when the Internet of Things will become a daily reality and every object will be connected to the Internet and localized with accuracy.  Therefore it is easy to imagine the potential of this technology also in terrestrial applications such as logistic and security.