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Tag Archives: Astria

Drone Performs Robotic Tasks on Telecommunications Towers

By Don Bishop

Photo 1. The drone, Astria, has a cyclorotor for lateral control and a long horizontal arm to keep its payload away from the rotors to allow it to interact with a tower.

Pitch Aeronautics has developed a drone for up-close, touch-based, robotic tasks that can prevent deaths of inspectors and technicians, according to the company.

The company said that, among the most dangerous jobs — some say, the most dangerous — in the United States is climbing infrastructure to perform inspections and maintenance1, as well as performing power line maintenance.2 Although today’s drones are good at taking video, they are not well-suited to get close or actually interact with the surface of an object, according to Pitch Aeronautics. Consequently, the company said, technicians are sent up on ropes, ladders, scaffolding, cranes and, sometimes, even hanging from helicopters to perform this work.

Photo 2. The drone pilot uses a first-person-view (FPV) camera and goggles, similar to virtual reality goggles, that let the pilot feel like they are on the drone. Astria overlays key flight and job information on the goggles, which is similar to the heads-up-display (HUD) in fighter aircraft.

Our drone, named Astria after the Greek goddess of precision, is specifically optimized for touch based tasks,” the company said. “It has a unique configuration that allows us to put a 5- to 10-pound payload (and in the future much more) on a long horizontal arm to keep it away from the rotors and allow it to interact with a tower, building, bridge, wind turbine or powerline (see Photo 1). It’s flown to the area using a first-person-view (FPV) camera and goggles, similar to virtual reality goggles, that let a pilot feel like they are on the drone. Astria overlays key flight and job information on the goggles, which is similar to the heads-up-display (HUD) in fighter aircraft (see Photo 2). Additional sensors and computers will allow future autonomous operations.”

Pitch Aeronautics said that Astria positions the payload near the target by using a cyclorotor for lateral control — the weird-looking thing on top (see Photo1, again). Cyclorotors are unique propellers that can nearly instantaneously push the drone forward, backward, left or right, the company said.

“This allows Astria to compensate for wind gusts and fly more precisely,” Pitch Aeronautics said. ”It can create and change thrust 5 to 10 times faster than traditional drones can by leaning (pitching/rolling) to move. Cyclorotors have been used on tugboats and ferries for nearly a century for the same reason, where they go by the brand name Voith-Schneider Propellers. Cyclorotors have recently been featured in the news by an Austrian company named Cyclotech, which is trying to use cyclorotors for flying cars, but it is not a new concept.”

Together, these capabilities allow Astria to perform up-close, touch-based, and precision robotic tasks, Pitch Aeronautics said.

“In partnership with Boise State University, we have already created an active thermography sensor that goes on Astria’s payload arm,” the company said. “With the sensor, the drone can inspect the integrity of composite structures, such as radomes and microwave bass drums.

Often, subsurface damage can lead to expensive damage that can be identified if the surface of the object is heated, then imaged with a thermal camera. We have already flown with this sensor and demonstrated its capability in the laboratory. While this is a proven industry technique, it requires putting a heavy payload close to an inspection target, something not possible with traditional drones.”

Other tasks that Pitch Aeronautics said the drone could accomplish with telecommunications towers include verifying the torque of bolts. Some bolts need to be checked periodically to make sure they will not come loose, the company said, which today must be done by hand. It said the drone can remove ice buildup from antennas, electronic, and structural members, and the drone can position a camera on an arm to inspect hard-to-see electronic connections and fittings that cannot be seen remotely.

In addition, the drone can remove (sandblast or laser-remove) light corrosion or flaking paint to identify the need to replace, Pitch Aeronautics said. The drone can check the resistance of the lightning protection system, install an ascending rope directly to the top of the tower to make it easier to access or bring equipment up the tower, and bring tools and parts to technicians on the tower, the company said.

Footnotes

1. PC-magThe GaurdianFox 10.

2. Business Insider.

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Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.