JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—The initial beta phase of a novel, computer-assisted drone to take dry film thickness (DFT) and surface profile measurements is expected to launch very soon, according to officials with software-controlled aerial robotics company Apellix, Jacksonville, Fla.
Called the “Smart Bee,” the drone uses specialized software, sensors, and an electronic coating thickness gauge system to collect and record nondestructive DFT millage thickness measurements. It eliminates the need for scaffolding and cranes, keeps workers safely on the ground, and improves productivity by up to 15 times—all while automatically recording every measurement with the time, data, photo confirmation, and additional project data.
The patent-pending technology consists of a base station with a portable computing device, such as a laptop or tablet, and a high-resolution video display; an unmanned aerial vehicle with attached sensors, a video camera, and a DFT probe; and specialized software with embedded systems for flight control and communications of the DFT measurements.
The system operator flies the aircraft to within close proximity of the location where the DFT measurement is to be taken and recorded. Then, with computer-assisted flight from the onboard distance and other sensors, the operator is able to “touch” the wand/probe to the surface to take the DFT measurement. The readings and the general location of the measurement are then recorded.
Based on strong early interest, the beta phase was targeted toward the maritime industry. Because of the unprecedented approach, the developers wanted to limit the initial commercial rollout to a small industry subset that they could closely monitor and work with. Eventually, the company plans to make its products available for smaller users.
In addition to the DFT drone, the developers are working on a separate “Worker Bee” model that works as a tethered, drone-based painting platform for larger-scale vertical surfaces. The company is currently conducting feasibility studies on this version.