Flying drones promise to replace many civilian services currently requiring humans by means of robots performing product delivery, agricultural monitoring, inspections and maintenance, damage assessments. For this vision to be concretized, drones need to be safe, reliable, available on demand and most importantly fully automatic. This revolution is facing three challenges:
1. the design of services that are possible to be executed within the regulations;
2. the development of landing stations that the drones can exploit as docking point to recharge their batteries;
3. the development of a master-control software that deals with coordination and optimization of the flights and operations of the drones performing the service.
The „Persistent Imaging with Robotized Drones” project (PIRD) is addressing the key technical challenges that all drone automation companies are facing today and that, if solved, will open the drone services market to existing and new industries. PIRD innovation will solve these challenges by the use of a platform managing transparently operations with small multi-copters and a network of landing/recharge stations. The PIRD system controls navigation, information feeds from the drones, and the operation strategy in a fault tolerant and law-abiding way. The software is able to program the flight plan best for each individual drone taking into account dynamically its role in the overall mission. The hardware ensures a permanent operation of the drones despite the limited autonomy and range of drones. The development of this innovation will allow for the first time to coordinate and manage in a fully automated way fleets of drones.
By integrating together the evolution of the prototypes developed during phase 1 of the SME instrument, the consortium intends to commercialize, in the short term, a modular platform that in the future can be deployed beyond industry 4.0 applications, especially in urban settings. This platform should provide an extremely flexible array of solutions that, thanks to the coordinated management of many available drones, can run either continuously (24/7), only at specific hours, or to be activated if triggered by specific events, such as alarms or natural events. The operators in the control room upgraded by the PIRD system will effectively have „eyes in the sky”, which will offer new real-time useful information, in a fully automatic way, with none or very little human supervision required.
The final business goal at the end of the SME instrument phase 2 is to tackle the global scene using these early achievements as a springboard for market penetration and to extend the viability of multiple innovative technological solutions to other potential fields of applications, such as
the safeguard of the national heritage (inspection of monuments or archaeological sites, extended photographic campaigns, etc.), the intervention in post-disaster scenarios (accidents, fires, earthquakes, landslides, etc.), the protection of the environment, and so on – contexts that could raise the interest of major institutional partners.