Drone, autonomous micro air vehicles (MAV), unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), flying robot — whatever term you choose — these related technologies are expanding their respective purposes into the inspection and analysis arena. Companies and organizations with large products and installations can benefit from the use of these technologies to safely inspect large products for quality and infrastructure components for soundness.
Airbus has been testing and demonstrating how drones can be used for quality inspection before planes are delivered to customers. Previously, Airbus’ quality inspectors had to go up in telescopic handler vehicles to examine aircraft and make sure there were no “non-conformities” such as defects, scrapes or dents. This process was a laborious one, and could take up to two hours. Using drones, though, the company has shown how it has reduced that time to as little as 10 minutes.
Airbus worked with drone outfit AscTec to create a modified Falcon 8 drone with Intel RealSense cameras for intelligent obstacle navigation and a 42-megapixel full-frame camera for data capture. The drone is set to fly a predetermined route around a plane, during which it systematically and automatically take a series of photos. A human drone pilot supervises the flight and is able to take control if necessary.
Up to 150 photos are typically captured and these are then examined by inspectors as 3D models of the plane In addition to making the process quicker and allowing images to be easily reexamined, the drones make it safer and more comfortable for inspectors.
Carnegie Mellon University researchers recently launched the Aerial Robotic Infrastructure Analyst (ARIA) project. The project is developing new methods to rapidly model and analyze infrastructure using small, low-flying robots.
Current inspection methods for bridges, dams, and other infrastructure involve expensive, specialized equipment, and are labor-intensive as well as potentially dangerous. Furthermore, inspections are subjective and result in representations that are difficult to compare over time.
The ARIA Project is taking infrastructure inspection to a new level. ARIA will use small, low-flying robots (i.e., MAVs), coupled with 3D imaging and advances in planning, modeling, and analysis to provide safe and efficient, high-precision inspection and damage assessment of structures. Rather than just observing, ARIA will actively construct a semantically rich 3D model of the structure, which will enable new methods of analysis and immersive interaction with the data.
The ARIA platform is a custom-designed octo-rotor MAV. It is equipped with a lightweight single line laser scanner that rotates at about 1 Hz, providing accurate, but low-resolution 3D measurements up to a range of 30 meters. The platform also sports three video cameras – two forward-looking stereo cameras and a wide-angle, high-resolution inspection camera pointing upward. An inertial measurement unit (IMU) and GPS provide relative and absolute position estimates, and wireless communication enables data transmission to and from the base station.
> Read more about ARIA from the Carnegie Mellon ARIA project web site.