Drones are already flying to remote places to drop off heart defibrillators. In Singapore, there’s even a restaurant where drones carry orders from the kitchen to the waiters’ station. Soon, you can add to the list: drones that perform inspection and maintenance on infrastructure like bridges and radio towers. A team of automatic control researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology just published this video of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) making the kind of pinpoint pickup and drop off you might see as part of these kinds of jobs.
Led by Dimos Dimarogonas, associate professor in Automatic Control at KTH, the researchers presented the experiment and their work in October at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Daejoen, Korea. Their research is part of the European Union Horizon 2020 project AEROWORKS, which aims to put drones to work on inspection and maintenance of infrastructure.
The UAV in the film is equipped with a small arm and gripper. Pedro Pereira, a PhD student from KTH, says that the experiment shows how a control algorithm enables the UAV to track a path to its predetermined position while at the same time the arm is able to orient itself and reach down and conduct its pickup/dropoff activities independently of the drone’s motion.
“The experiment presented in the video illustrates a particular scenario, where the manipulator and its gripper are horizontal before take-off, and they need to be vertical before the load is picked up,” Pereira says. “While the manipulator orientation is being steered from horizontal to vertical, the UAV position is simultaneously being steered from its starting point to the point where the load can be gripped.
“Such a control algorithm is needed in scenarios where the UAV is required to transport a load,” he says.
Post script: Those of us in Sweden are just getting our heads around a recent high court ruling that drones carrying cameras are an illegal form of surveillance. Whether this affects future uses including maintenance/repair, I cannot say. Dimos isn’t the coordinator of AEROWORKS so he is unaware of any legal complications. Now, I’m no fancy big city lawyer — but from what I can tell, the law exempts uses where there is no public access – which would include the tests inside of the Smart Mobility Lab at KTH. Anyone with a policy analysis background care to weigh in?