Every day we are seeing an increasing number of robots being employed in our day-to-day lives. They are working in factories, cleaning our houses and may soon be chauffeuring us around in vehicles. The affordability of drones too has come down and now it is conceivable for most anyone
to own a sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). While fun to fly, these devices also represent powerful new tools for several industries. Anytime an aerial view is needed for a planning, surveillance or surveying, for example, a UAV can be deployed. Further still, equipping these vehicles
with an array of sensors, for climate research or mapping, increases their capability even more. This gives companies, governments or researchers a cheap and safe way to collect vast amounts of data and complete tasks in remote or dangerous areas that were once impossible to reach. One area
UAVs are proving to be particularly useful is infrastructure inspection. In countries all over the world large scale infrastructure projects like dams and bridges are ageing and in need of upkeep. Identifying which ones and exactly where they are in need of patching is a huge undertaking.
Not only can this work be dangerous, requiring trained inspectors to climb these megaprojects, it is incredibly time consuming and costly. Enter the UAVs. With a fleet of specially equipped UAVs and a small team piloting them and interpreting the data they bring back the speed and safety of
this work increases exponentially. The promise of UAVs to overturn the infrastructure inspection process is enticing, but there remain several obstacles to overcome. One is achieving the fine level of control and positioning required to navigate the robots around 3D structures for inspection.
One can imagine that piloting a small UAV underneath a huge highway bridge without missing a single small crack is quite difficult, especially when the operators are safely on the ground hundreds of meters away. To do this knowing exactly where the vehicle is in space becomes a critical variable.
The job can be made even easier if a flight plan based on set waypoints can be pre-programmed and followed autonomously by the UAV. It is exactly this problem that Dr Kae Doki from the Department of Electrical Engineering at Aichi Institute of Technology, and collaborators are focused on solving.
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