Milestone achieved: outdoor aircraft drone inspections

Milestone achieved: outdoor aircraft drone inspections



4 min. read.

Believe it or not. Drone-powered aircraft inspections are about to become mainstream. Why? Because our team has made groundbreaking progress and achieved a major milestone: conducting aircraft drone inspections in outdoor airport environments. No need anymore for unscheduled maintenance to be time-and cost-intensive because the hangar is occupied. We are convinced: with this milestone being achieved, the industry is getting closer to a point where drones inspect and evaluate an aircraft in as little as 60 minutes, right at the apron.

How did we get here?

The journey begins with aircraft inspections in hangars. For this, our team utilized an approach called SLAM. SLAM stands for "simultaneous localisation and mapping". With that the drone is able to perceive the hangar environment, create a map of it and place itself within that map. With the help of a LIDAR module that is attached to the drone the distance to the aircraft is measured by illuminating it with transceivers. Each transceiver quickly emits light pulses and measures the reflected pulses to determine position and distance. Our SLAM algorithm then uses this data to map the hangar environment and localize the drone precisely to make sure it flies safely around the aircraft.

visualization of drone inspecting an aircraft based on lidar and gps

Where are we now?

After a series of successful indoor tests our team was eager to push our technology further in a way that it does not require a closed hangar environment. Why? Because for aircraft operators hangar space is expensive to rent and not always available. This is especially the case when unscheduled maintenance is required due to lightning strikes or other incidents. That is why we worked hard to make outdoor inspections possible, allowing aircraft operators to make quick assessments on the spot. We achieved this by advancing our existing SLAM algorithm in two ways. On the one hand by integrating GPS data and on the other by taking external factors such as strong winds into account. The result: even in unfavourable weather conditions we are now able to conduct fast and reliable outdoor aircraft drone inspections.

aircraft parked outdoor airport

What does this mean for the industry?

Our progress is in line with our vision to transform the aviation and subsequent MRO industry. From the perspective of the maintenance service providers, efficiently fulfilling overwhelming maintenance requests with limited resource availability is challenging. While indoor drone inspections are already a great step forward, outdoor inspections will be a true game changer. They are going to help stakeholders to improve turnaround times and data quality, while increasing safety and speed of operation. No aircraft repositioning or special preparations required. Additionally, making results of the inspection quickly and easily available to all stakeholders introduces great opportunities in data management and decision making.

Once thought of as an object only seen in sci-fi movies, drone technology is now on the fast track to changing the aviation industry as we know it. More and more airlines and MROs are starting to understand this. Their goal? Not only improve their processes but also stay competitive.

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