Unmanned Systems Technology 036

60 I nspecting industrial assets such as storage tanks, chimneys and machinery using UAVs is problematic. Conventional multi-rotors for example are no good, for two main reasons. First, the assets are often indoors or surrounded by a lot of concrete and metal, making GNSS signals unreliable or unavailable. Second, industrial environments entail numerous collision risks. To get around that, users could choose low-cost and thus replaceable consumer-grade UAVs, but they usually have poor navigation capabilities, autonomy and endurance, yielding little benefit in terms of the labour saved. Samir Bouabdallah, the CEO of Flybotix, has however long envisioned that a sufficiently well-designed and intelligent UAV could avoid damage without needing GNSS and with minimal downtime for such tasks. He witnessed the start of the UAV era during his PhD work on quadrotors at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Lausanne, where he wrote influential papers in the field. He came to see the quadcopter architecture as sub-optimal, largely because of how small and inefficient their propellers are when the use-case requires compact machines below 50 cm in span. In 2009, he founded Skybotix (since acquired by GoPro) where he and his team developed one of the first commercial coaxial UAVs. After leaving Skybotix, he went on sabbatical, to solve the severe flight-time limit of quadrotors at small scale. As Matthias Tschudi, business development manager at Flybotix, relates, “He knew back then that you could make a really effective industrial inspection UAV by installing a protective cage around it. However, to fit the propellers into that confined space, you’d then have to make them even smaller, which further reduces aerodynamic efficiency, hence reducing flight time and increasing recharge time and downtime.” The ASIO does not need GNSS, and has a protective cage to allow it to examine industrial assets and environments in safety. Rory Jackson reports Factory worker February/March 2021 | Unmanned Systems Technology The ASIO is powered by two coaxial props and uses various sensors and LEDs for indoor inspections (Images courtesy of Flybotix)