Drones to inspect buildings

SuisseLa research laboratory federal test that is currently in Dübendorf drones capable of navigating autonomously.

Des drones pour inspecter les bâtiments

The drones in the future could monitor buildings, tunnels, or pipelines, and to check if they are damaged. A new collaboration between the Empa and the Imperial College London aims to continue the development of such devices.

Similar to the body’s immune cells, the drones could not only patrol the building and report damage, but also alert other drones for repairs. This long-term vision is developed by the “Aerial Robotics Hub”, the Empa and the Imperial College London are launching in the building of “Nest” in Dübendorf (ZH).

“In and out directly on the buildings, the GPS navigation is hardly possible,” says Mirko Kovac of Imperial College London and director of the new Hub at Empa, in an interview with Keystone-ats. This is why it is important to have drones capable of navigating autonomously.

Using visual systems, they constitute a 3D map of their environment, in which they can locate and control. They are naturally able to avoid obstacles, such as the sudden appearance of the inhabitants of the building.

Inspired by nature

“New soft materials must be used, which gives the drones of new features. This is where the expertise of Empa comes into play,” says Mr. Kovac.

The researchers draw a lot of inspiration from the nature: with its web, a spider creates, for example, a gentle structure, which not only acts as a housing or trap for insects, but also of sensors. “It can create a new sensor at any location”, says the researcher.

The drones are not there yet, but is in the range of flying robots, developed, and tested in the “Aerial Robotics Hub”, there is already a kind of “drone-spider”. With the help of a wire, it is able to cling to a wall of the building, “Nest” and hang himself, like a spider.

This saves the energy that would have otherwise been required to float in front of the area concerned. With appropriate sensors, the drone and could examine the wall more closely to identify the extent of the damage.

Great potential for the use

The potential for the use of such an “immune system” of unmanned aerial vehicles for the maintenance of buildings is huge, is convinced Mirko Kovac. The monuments, for example, could be examined and repaired from the inside and the outside. These robots would also agree as the service of maintenance for tunnels, pipelines or wind farms.

“The ‘Nest’ is a great demonstration platform for our technologies,”; said Mr. Kovac. Even if the building is new, and little damage is to be feared, drones are self-employed may here make their evidence on the ground.

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