Removing the need for scaffolds: tool-equipped drones

Removing the need for scaffolds: tool-equipped drones

Technology News |
French startup Aerial Coboticus aims to fly industrial-grade robotic tools affixed to a king-sized remotely controlled drone. Created in May 2015, the startup has patented the concept and is in early stages of R&D, hoping to deliver its first operational demonstrator by 2018.
By Julien Happich

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Exhibiting a conceptual mock-up at this year’s Innorobo fair, co-founder Asma Bouaouaja described a 4m-span quadcopter, tethered to a long power cord for unlimited flight, capable to embark up to 14kg of tooling equipment.

“This is a very large drone”, emphasized Bouaouaja, “it will weigh around 90kg, yet we’ll be able to achieve sub-centimetre precision at the tip of the robot arm it will carry”, she told eeNews Europe at the exhibition.

With this level of precision, Bouaouaja is confident the tool-wielding flying platform will be able to carry out complex tasks in difficult-to-access places, at a fraction of the cost of installing scaffolds. This could be welding, laser surface cleaning or any other routine repair or maintenance work for which costly and obtrusive scaffolds are typically required today. Instead, only temporary safety markings may be required at ground level for the duration of the remote operation.

Engineers could operate at a safe distance, controlling the robot arm via video feed and haptic force feedback while the drone itself would hover in quasi autonomous mode.


The startup has partnered with industrial robots manufacturer Kuka which offers 7-axis robotic arms with force feedback. As for all industrial robots, given a fixed base position, the robot arm can derive the exact tool-tip position from the sensor data collected from its joints. Force feedback typically relies on torque sensors also implemented at the joints’ motors. But achieving sub-centimetre accuracy at the tool tip when the robot base is on-board a moving drone is less obvious.

Bouaouaja didn’t want to say too much about the company’s recipe for success, only hinting at the use of inertial measurement units combined with a ground-based telemetry solution. “We want to offer a tool-carrying platform that leverages all the existing ecosystem around Kuka’s robotic arms” she said, “so you could use pretty much any tool and technology that is available today for these robot arms”. The aerial cobot solution could be either sold as a standalone product or made available on a leasing basis.

Admitting she enjoys flying drones as a hobby, Bouaouaja told us the idea of such an industrial drone came up to her when admiring Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral, noting that part of its façade and intricate stone masonry probably hadn’t been refurbished for a while. Understandably, refurbishing such touristic landmarks is not only difficult (read costly) but also imposes unsightly scaffolds.

“Suddenly, with Aerial Coboticus everything becomes accessible” she concluded with a smile.

Visit Aerial Coboticus at https://aerialcoboticus.com

 

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