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Drone and mobile robot combo to inspect high storage

Cecilie Christina Pilgrim

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Drone and mobile robot combo to inspect high storage

Imagine you're working in a warehouse and the top shelves are really high up. Imagine that, instead of standing on a mobile lift a long way above the hard concrete surface, you can send a drone up into the air to scan the goods while standing firmly on the ground.

This scenario is the aim of a new European project named TEDAI (Tethered drones for semi-automated inventory checking). The project's three partners - Elistair, MapsPeople and the Danish Technological Institute - will develop a reliable collaborative robot to partially automate stock counting in high storage units.

During the two-year project, the three TEDAI partners will integrate a drone and a mobile robot with an advanced "tether" - a Kevlar-enhanced drone cable - as well as an indoor navigation system.

Scan of items in situ
The purpose of the project is to automate the scanning of goods where they are. The drone must read barcodes, QR codes and the like to verify the item and ensure that the right thing is in the right place. It should provide an overview of inventory, errors, shortages or unidentified goods that may be found in the existing storage system.

The drone is equipped with a camera and takes pictures of all goods and labels. Should problems arise later, the appearance of the product can thus be investigated by barcode without the need for an employee to access the high shelves in the warehouse.

The tether will both supply the drone with power from the mobile robot and increase the security and speed of data flow between the mobile robot and the drone.

Project manager from Elistair Antoine Haag calls the system revolutionizing.

- By using a tethered drone highly automated for warehouse inventory will not only reduce stock issues for companies, it will revolutionise the complete processes and standards put in place for too long in the inventory logistic domain.

- Also, the use of a dual robot system, a tethered drone and a base robot, working together and coupled with a positioning system, opens a new and wide field of application for long term data collection such as building and infrastructure inspection, or even horticulture examination, he says.

The three project partners each contribute with relevant competences. Elistair is a global leader in the production of drones with tether cables, while MapsPeople works with indoor mapping and navigation. The Danish Technological Institute, which has many years of experience in robot solution development, will make the system that gets the drone to work together with the mobile robot as if it was a single unit.

- We mainly help people navigate in large buildings but it’s a natural extension of our platform that it can also assist drones and robots with navigating safely and with precision indoors. So, TEDAI is an exciting project that we’re happy to be part of, says Rasmus Steenberg Andersen, MapsPeople CIO.

The project stems from a direct request from distributors to track and keep an eye on goods on their warehouses, says Cecilie Pilgrim, consultant at the Danish Technological Institute and project manager from DTI, about the background for the project and adds:

- Today, a lot of warehouse inspection is done manually using a lift and handheld computers and barcode scanners to scan the items on the top shelves. Using drones and mobile robots, time is saved and the safety of the individual employee is significantly increased, as the need for difficult stock checks can be greatly reduced.

- We believe that this system can help optimize the division of work between humans and robots so that the robots perform the repetitive hard work, which then releases employee time for tasks like problem solving, concludes Cecilie Pilgrim.

The project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, the Innovation Fund Denmark (8033-00213B) and the IF-Eurostars-2018 (E12577).