From farming to security, drones are being developed for almost every application imaginable, and now, thanks to team in Germany, building renovation is no different.
In much of Europe, and in Germany in particular, there is high demand for renovation of buildings that have taken damage or wear due to age or environmental exposure, which requires detailed inspections of their exterior.
Normally this is a lengthy process, particularly when large outside sections such as wide façades need to be accessed. It also can be hampered by errors: inspections are largely done by eye and marked on 2D paper maps.
However, with the development of a custom octocopter, this could soon change.
A creation of Christian Eschmann, a researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Non-Destructive Testing IZFP in Saarbrücken, Germany, the “flying inspection robots” are equipped with eight rotors to allow them to reach as high as 11 storeys.
The octocopter is equipped to scan masonry for cracks, chips or structural defects from a distance of 2 metres. A high-definition digital camera also snaps detailed images of the building, with around 1,200 images generated in a 15 minute flight, providing a clear picture of the complete structure.
Additional sensors measure wind speeds and ensure the octocopter remains stable, preventing crashes or collisions with the building.
Inspections of tall or unusually shaped buildings can be immensely time consuming, and even require the use of professional abseilers, cranes, helicopters or scaffolding, but Eschmann believes this drone approach will be far quicker and easier.
“To inspect their condition and prevent hazards to people, a lot of effort still has to be devoted to buildings that are difficult to access,” he said.
“For a 20 by 80 meter wide façade, a test engineer needs about two to three days. Our octocopter needs three to four hours for this.”
At present the octocopter only functions as a remote-control vehicle, but Eschmann and his team are looking to make the technology autonomous, through the development of specialist navigation sensors.
These sensors will follow a system that Eschmann compared to “flying on rails”; they will be able to move from one side of the building to the other, floor-by-floor, allowing for a systematic assessment of the whole building.
Given the challenges and time involved in traditional building inspections, the technology is likely to prove highly popular, however Eschmann was keen to stress that the octocopter would be a support tool, rather a technology destined to take jobs.
“Our micro-airplane is no substitute for experts or a close-up inspection,” he said.