Autonomous roofing drone nails down asphalt shingles
Between drones that assemble rope bridges and others that build low-cost houses out of mud, imaginative research projects continue to show us how the autonomous aircraft can have a role to play in the world of construction. Scientists at the University of Michigan (UM) have put forward another possibility, showing off an octocopter equipped with a nail gun and a knack for fixing asphalt shingles to a mock rooftop.
The engineering team started with an off-the-shelf nail gun and a DJI S1000 Octocopter, which also happens to be the model we saw turned into a flying flamethrower earlier in the year.
To turn the drone from one that simply carries a nail gun to one that uses it to secure roof shingles, the team set up a system of cameras and markers, which enable the aircraft to both know exactly where it is in the environment, and determine where the nails should go.
Where a human roofer would need to pull the trigger on the electric nail gun, the team programmed a virtual switch so that the drone itself does so when in the correct position. They then performed a number of demonstrations, using the drone to nail shingles to a wooden panel at different angles to mimic roofs with different slopes.
While an impressive feat, the team notes that the proof-of-concept system is currently inferior to a human deployed to do the same job, but they see a few ways they could bring it up to speed. It can only operate for 10 minutes at a time, but by adding a power cable alongside an airline, they could both allow it to run indefinitely and add more firepower by way of a pneumatic nail gun.
They also say that the system of cameras and markers would be overkill for a practical version of the technology. With a shiny adhesive strip and different coloring of the shingles to the material below it, the team says there are enough visual queues for a drone to find its own way.
“It would be pretty easy to have a camera system mounted on the octocopter that understands both the orientation of the shingle and its position,” says Ella Atkins, a professor of aerospace engineering and robotics.
The paper describing the team’s research can be accessed online here (PDF), while you can see the drone in action in the video below.
Source: University of Michigan