Centre d’innovació i Tecnologia BARCELONATECH

THE FIRST DRONES WITH ROBOTIC ARMS AND MANIPULATION CAPABILITIES

The Institute of Robotics and Industrial Informatics (IRI), CSIC-UPC, has completed its participation in AEROARMS. The aim of this European project was to develop new procedures and tools for inspecting and maintaining industrial plants through the creation of a generation of aerial robots with hovering capabilities and arms for active interaction and manipulation of objects in a disorganised environment.

Aerial robots with articulated arms will have a great economic impact in the future. They will help in tasks of automated inspection and industrial maintenance in facilities where the effort to prepare for access is very high, the risks for humans and the environment are high, or a shut-down of normal production processes can be avoided by automated inspection.

The project consortium faced three major challenges. First, to create drones equipped with manipulating arms that are efficient enough for industrial use. Second, for robotic arms to be compatible and some of them to be equipped with a clamp assembled ventrally in the flying vehicle so that the drone can acquire a range of target objects or carry out a series of maintenance procedures in the presence of aerodynamic perturbations. Finally, as there is generally a limited useful load, achieving a high level of performance and functionality requires the development of new approaches and algorithms for managing energy, real-time control and state estimation algorithms.

In addition to the research activity, the project results will have a real impact mainly on companies that offer high-cost solutions for inspection and maintenance tasks in the petroleum and gas industries. Particular attention was paid to the design and development of the system to adapt it to international regulations ATEX and RPAS.

The new system was validated in two pilot applications. It was tested industrial in a range of working conditions in refineries and in a cement factory to measure the width of the walls of pipes and detect cracks. The result was more efficient maintenance in less time and at a much lower cost. Annual savings that would be achieved in a refinery have been estimated at 700,000 euros, with a ten-fold reduction in time invested.

Aeroarms received the Innovation Radar 2017 award for all categories in the area of Information and Communication Technologies, the most important prize in technological innovation in the European Union.

The project, led by the University of Seville, had a budget of over 5.7 million euros and entities from five countries were involved: Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland and Spain.