Airobotics – Industrial Drones Powered by Robots
In a recent article, we talked about what it would take to develop a security drone. A key component of building a security drone that can provide round-the-clock surveillance is the ability for drone battery swapping to take place “on the fly” such that the drone can fly almost continuously without human intervention. Most applications for industrial drones will require a station that can swap batteries out for drones in a matter of minutes and without any human oversight. One startup that wants to build such a platform for industrial drones is Airobotics.
Founded in December of 2014, Israeli startup Airobotics took in their Series A funding round of $6 million in 2015 and then in February of this year took in a Series B round of $22.5 million. In June of 2016, Airobotics launched a fully automatic drone platform that can recharge drones on the fly using robotics. If you can imagine in your mind a future where drone deliveries are commonplace, you would see a system that has managed to automate every aspect of drone operation including battery replacement. This is a critical component that enables many industrial drone applications like delivery or 24-hour surveillance.
Airobotics has developed a platform that consists of three main components; an industrial drone called “Optimus”, a landing platform called “Airbase” which is enabled with robotics, and “Airobotics Software” that makes the whole thing work automatically. The marketing geniuses over at Airobotics have put together a demo of how the robot powered drone platform works along with a dramatic musical score that puts Hans Zimmer to shame.
The drone you see in that video is called Optimus and it has been developed by Airobotics in-house. Optimus comes with some really cool features like a swappable battery, a payload module that can hold up to 2.2 pounds, an emergency parachute, and a 30-minute flight time. The software they have developed allows you to create, edit, and record missions that can then be automated to fly at whatever frequency you desire or even on-demand. All that robotic magic that keeps the drones in the air almost constantly by swapping batteries out is contained in a fairly large housing unit called an “Airbase”, the scale of which can be seen below:
The “Airbase” you see above is completely sealed, waterproof, durable, and corrosion resistant.
In August of this year, Airobotics received a “Certificate of Waiver” from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in the U.S. to operate their automatic drone system commercially and at night. Only 76 such waivers have been granted so far, and this establishes Airobotics as a safe and reliable drone system operator for commercial use. The FAA expects more than 600,000 commercial drones to operate in the US within the next 12 months.
Airobotics is building automated industrial drones that can be used across a broad number of industry applications. Security surveillance is an obvious one but you also have applications like autonomous surveying and mapping for the mining industry or routine and emergency inspections for industrial infrastructure. In particular, drones would be good for inspecting infrastructure that resides across a great deal of space. Things like oil and gas pipelines, solar installations, wind turbines, power lines, and any sort of critical infrastructure lends itself well to automated drone inspections. If your job involves driving around inspecting 100s of miles of infrastructure then you may want to start looking for another job soon if this actually takes off.
The Airobotics platform has already gone through beta at Israel Chemicals Ltd, and the company has given Airobotics a glowing review, citing quicker inspection times, among other things. Here’s a testimonial from a recent article by Interdrone:
“I feel like this is the future,” said Yakov Kahlon, senior vice president of operations at Israel Chemicals, one of Airobotics’ first customers. “The Airobotics platform has provided us with a highly effective tool that is cheaper economically and saves us time. With the platform, we can measure in one day what once took multiple days to measure.”
If you buy enough drones, you can continuously fly them now in any configuration you need with the only cost being electricity and routine maintenance. At some point, people will start measuring the quality of a drone by looking at long term durability. How long can I run this drone continuously before it has a problem? When it does have a problem, how long will it take me to fix it?
Airobotics is not operating without competition in the industrial drone space. We have highlighted other companies before like AG Eagle that is using drones for agricultural applications or Delta Drone that wants to use drones for inspections in the mining industry. A startup called Matternet is actually using drones for delivery right now. DJI Innovations is the biggest drone company in the world and the 14th largest startup in the world at the moment. We can’t imagine they haven’t already thought about building a drone that could accommodate an automated battery swapping unit. It wouldn’t take much to modify any one of their drones such that it could dock itself and have the battery swapped out using robotics.
While DJI has been focusing primarily on the consumer drone segment, startups like Airobotics see an opportunity for building a drone platform that targets heavy industry and that will attempt to completely dominate the industrial drone space. While they may be able to protect certain elements of their platform with patents, there are no barriers to entry for other companies to start playing in the industrial drone space so Airobotics needs to get as much industry adoption as possible, as quick as possible.
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