Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, have gone in just a few short years from something associated solely with the military to being tested for Amazon Prime delivery, having a starring role in a Super Bowl halftime performance and being used by everyday people for basic flying fun.
If there’s been one segment of the UAV industry that’s lagged behind, however, it’s the commercial segment, and it’s because UAV design for this segment largely hasn’t kept pace with its applications. Despite the adoption of drones for essential operations in energy, mining, construction, agriculture and the maintenance and protection of critical infrastructure, many commercial-grade UAVs have more in common with the toys designed for consumers available from big box stores than the industrial-grade tools they’re being used alongside. Many, but not all. We’d like to introduce you to Optimus.
Standard UAV design shortcomings
The standard UAV design that goes into the consumer-grade drones being used by many industrial organizations might be acceptable if it weren’t for the requirement of a human pilot, the lack of robustness in the hardware, and the few included sensors. As UAVs become increasingly integral tools for organizations across a large number of industries, however, these shortcomings are going to become incredibly apparent as the time and cost savings promised by these innovations never materialize.
The single biggest expense associated with the use of these consumer-grade drones is the pilot. Having a trained and certified pilot available for scheduled missions is expensive enough, let alone having one on-call for unscheduled flights. Having to wait for a pilot is also hugely detrimental in emergency situations when human lives may hang in the balance and a response time delay of just minutes may mean immense damages. Furthermore, a human pilot introduces the potential for human error in all flights.
A lack of robustness is a major issue for industrial UAVs because one of the main things drones should be doing is taking over tasks that pose significant risk to human employees, such as blast site inspection and surveying remote locations. This means they must be able to operate in hazardous areas as well as extreme weather conditions. If a drone isn’t built rugged and doesn’t have means of protection, it isn’t going to be able to withstand the conditions in which it needs to operate, necessitating costly repairs and replacements or causing delays.
One of the biggest limitations in commercial-grade UAV design is how few sensors can be integrated on a drone. Due to the size and weight of the sensors, it’s rare for an off-the-shelf drone to be equipped with more than one or two – more would simply increase the size of the drone too much or cause instability in the drone’s flight. With only one or two sensors, these commercial-grade drones are greatly limited in their data collection capabilities.
Optimizing the design of UAVs
The issues in current commercial-grade UAV design technology opened up a wealth of opportunity for drone manufacturers willing to take the steps necessary to bridge the gap between consumer-grade toy and industrial-grade multitool. What Airobotics has done with the Optimus drone system is create a UAV designed to operate without any human intervention in even the harshest and most hazardous industrial conditions, with a wide range of applications thanks to an innovative swappable payload system.
Optimus is fully automatic as well as self-sufficient, providing 24/7 availability. It requires no human intervention for any aspect of its operation, launching, flying, landing and completing all maintenance itself. With its advanced automated UAV design, Optimus is capable of flying scheduled and preplanned missions as well as on-demand and emergency response flights, and it can do so in the harsh environments in which industrial-grade drones are expected to fly thanks to its robust build.
When not flying, Optimus is housed in the Airbase that makes up a major component of the Optimus system. Not only does the Airbase provide shelter for the drone, but it also includes a robotic arm that provides necessary maintenance including automatic battery changing and payload swapping. Without the Airbase, the Optimus would not have end-to-end automation.
Automatic payload swapping is another huge benefit Optimus offers over other consumer-grade drones. Airobotics has a growing range of swappable, application-specific payloads as well as accompanying software that enables organisations to first gather an unprecedented variety of raw data and then process it into actionable insights. This innovative swappable system is an effective workaround for how few sensors can be integrated on a drone.
The applications already available span a wide range of industries, and Airobotics does allow for applications to be built to order. The variety of applications will only keep increasing, as Airobotics offers a developer program that allows talented drone developers to integrate apps on its platform, providing these developers with opportunities for software acquisition, revenue sharing or career development in return for custom applications that create value for companies, facilities and factories around the world.
UAVs are improving upon and even replacing standard operating procedures in industry, but in order to provide the time and cost savings as well as business process improvements they truly should, the consumer-grade drones masquerading as commercial-grade UAVs need to be pushed aside in favor of industrial-grade multitools. Automated drones like Optimus should be the current standard, but even if they are the wave of the future, organisations all over the globe and in a number of industries will be all the better for it.
“original published in Airobotics’ Blog” –