Drones

Pressure-sensing drone designed to inspect skyscrapers

Pressure-sensing drone designe...
The hexacopter uses a pen in its pressure-sensing arm to write the Shenyang Institute of Automation's initials (SIA) on a glass wall
The hexacopter uses a pen in its pressure-sensing arm to write the Shenyang Institute of Automation's initials (SIA) on a glass wall
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SIA's experimental hexacopter
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SIA's experimental hexacopter
The hexacopter uses a pen in its pressure-sensing arm to write the Shenyang Institute of Automation's initials (SIA) on a glass wall
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The hexacopter uses a pen in its pressure-sensing arm to write the Shenyang Institute of Automation's initials (SIA) on a glass wall

Glass-clad skyscrapers need to be inspected on a regular basis, in order to ensure that the glass panes are securely attached and undamaged. Doing so might soon become much quicker and safer, with a little help from a special drone.

Currently, such inspections are carried out by people who are lowered along the face of the building on a swing stage. This takes a lot of time and effort, plus there's definitely an element of risk for the workers involved.

With these limitations in mind, a team of scientists from the Shenyang Institute of Automation at the Chinese Academy of Sciences has developed a prototype autonomous hexacopter drone.

SIA's experimental hexacopter
SIA's experimental hexacopter

The aircraft has a vertically-pivoting arm on one side, that has a square array of pressure sensors on the end. Basically, the idea is that the drone will be able to assess how well the glass is attached to a building, by systematically pressing that sensor arm against each pane to see if there's any give. In order to make this possible, a special closed-loop control system had to be built into the aircraft – ordinarily, if an autonomous drone comes into contact with an unyielding surface while in flight, it will simply stop instead of continuing to press against that surface.

So far, the copter has successfully activated a wall-mounted push-type light switch, and has used a pen on its arm to write the Shenyang Institute of Automation's initials (SIA) on a glass wall.

"In the near future, we might see an extensive use of this new system in large infrastructure maintenance, and other special applications, such as scientific sampling," says project leader Meng Xiangdong.

And for another alternative to using people on swing stages for highrise inspections, check out the SAM wall-climbing robot.

Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences

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