Crash-avoidance tech lets drones get close without disaster

IDG News Service | Jul 30, 2015

With SkySpecs’ collision-avoidance system, drones can fly a few feet away from turbines to take video and photos without crashing into them.

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Software is preventing this drone from running full speed ahead into this board.

This is an off-the-shelf DJI drone that’s equipped with SkySpec’s custom hardware and software that keeps it from crashing into things.

The collision avoidance technology is called Guardian. It works like a co-pilot that takes over control of the drone from a human operator when it gets too close to an object and is in danger of crashing into it. It uses a Lidar sensor to know how far away it is from an obstacle.

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Danny Ellis
CEO, SkySpecs
We’ve been doing it for wind turbine blade inspections.
Instead of a rope access guy climbing down the blades, you can fly this up on the blade and do it in about 5 minutes. What you’re looking at is a prototype, but we have commercial units deployed with customers right now.

In June, the company was cleared by the FAA to do wind turbine inspections using drones. It received a so-called Section 333 exemption, which authorizes companies to fly drones in the U.S. at altitudes up to 400 feet.

This is video taken from a drone during a wind turbine inspection. You can see just how close it gets to the blade, but doesn’t crash into it.

The company is now working on automating the inspection process so the drone can do the job on its own.

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So instead of just collision avoidance, actually be able to push a button and have it conduct a scan by itself so that the operator on the ground doesn’t even need to be a pilot.

SkySpecs wants to use Guardian to inspect other tall vertical structures that require people to climb or use large cranes to reach, like cell towers, oil rigs and bridges.