So, you think drones are revolutionizing surveying, mapping, and inspection tasks? That will start to sound like old news once you find out what researchers in New Zealand are teaching drones to do. Two University of Canterbury academics are enabling drones to use hazardous precision tools in midair for a variety of complex industries.
Computer science professor Richard Green specializes in artificial intelligence, while mechanical engineering professor Dan Zhao is an expert in aerospace engineering. The duo is collaborating on a project that could radically change the way drones are used in various industries.
As Green explains:
Our research will go beyond simple surveying and inspection tasks. We will build a platform for UAVs to use precision tools in changing dynamic environments, such as outdoors, around hazardous infrastructure like power pylons, or in construction or forestry, without ladders or scaffolding. Enabling UAVs to use precision tools is a new technological capability and a radical change in functionality. It will not only transform the way UAVs can be used, but also how and where.
The “where” part, for starters, could stem from end users in arboriculture, silviculture, electricity infrastructure industry, civil construction, as well as government and regulation bodies.
The “how” remains a puzzle for now, but we do know that to achieve this overarching goal, the researchers will need to solve different, interdisciplinary engineering challenges.
This would include turbulent flow rotor-to-rotor interactions prediction, precise control of a hovering drone, force trajectory control, and robust estimate of a drone’s position and orientation in a wide range of dynamic environments.
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Zhao elaborates the way forward, detailing that the duo is collaborating with national and international researchers, drone manufacturers, and users to teach drones to use precision tools:
Our novel approaches to solve these challenges include advanced aerodynamic modelling, new UAV airframe design methods, advanced UAV control methods, novel ways to optimize visual-odometry positioning and demonstration of different applications.
If successful, drones that can handle precision tools will be able to offer a wide range of benefits for different industry sectors, making even more inaccessible and hazardous tasks safer, easier, cost-effective, and efficient. We will keep you posted on the developments from the University of Canterbury.
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