The construction industry has a five-year average of 2.07 deaths per 100,000 workers, which makes it the most dangerous manufacturing sector. Drone technology can reduce the risk to human lives by assisting with a range of activities including site inspection, surveying, health and safety inductions for the human operators, as well as automated surface sampling. Drone technology is a major step towards cost savings, increased efficiency and lower risk to human workers by replacing dangerous operations with unmanned vehicles.
However, today’s drones are not ready to operate effectively in a construction context and there are several technological challenges that still need to be solved. For example, state of the art drones cannot operate safely in high windy conditions, they cannot fly and operate precisely close to structures, and they can usually flight only up to 10 to 20 minutes due to energy limitations. These technological setbacks are the main limitations for the application of drones in carrying out several tasks or operating in hostile environmental conditions and therefore limit their utility for high value applications such as in bridge maintenance.
To solve these challenges, we have developed "Spider Drone" a bio-inspired aerial robot that is able to stabilize itself in windy conditions and perch at high altitude for extended periods of time to carry out inspection tasks precisely and at ease.
Its design has been inspired by the strategy used in nature by the ballooning spider, which extrudes its strings and uses them to fly for long distances in windy conditions, to attach trees, to build its own nest, and to perch. By exploiting the same principle, Spider Drone can stabilize itself in flight using self launched strings, can attach to surfaces and perch for long periods also in adverse weather conditions.
Spider-Drone can robustly attach to metallic surfaces by using 4 magnetic anchors that are launched at high-speed from the robot using a compressed CO2 gas cartridge for actuation. The strings can be launched from the muzzle simultaneously and keep the drone in tension while it is suspended. With this novel bio-inspired strategy, the drone is able to perch and stabilise itself in strong wind conditions for long periods. This allows the close-distance inspection of surfaces, and structural interfaces by human operators who can work remotely in safe conditions instead of having to perform working at height to carry out the same tasks.
The long-term opportunities for the use of Spider Drone lie in the construction industry and the large industrial service sector and beyond, with economic benefits for the companies and a great improvement of the safety and quality of work of human operators.