Drones are very useful devices for dull, dirty or dangerous tasks, but one thing they could not do was match the human ability to inspect by touch—until now. A drone fitted with a sensitive telescopic arm to allow the testing of industrial structures last month won the European Commission’s Innovation Radar prize.
The semi-autonomous drone, known as AEROARMS, was developed by the Centre for Advanced Aerospace Technologies (CATEC) in Spain.
It can carry sensors which rely on physical contact to measure, for example, the thickness of pipes or the presence of corrosion. The drone is particularly suited to inspections of facilities such as oil and gas plants, where manual inspection is expensive, slow and dangerous.
On its website, CATEC says that the drone is designed to perform very precise movements and includes a new device that provides stability while the drone is performing contact operations.
Euronews quotes Professor of Robotics at the University of Seville, Aníbal Ollero, as saying that the technology could save a typical refinery 700,000 euros (about $A 1 million) a year.
‘The inspections will be conducted ten times faster, and without height-related work accidents’, he said.