Anibal Ollero, professor of Robotics at the University of Seville, has been awarded a grant of 2.5 million euros for investigate new drone designs.
His research project will focus on a “compatible robotic handling system that integrates fixed and swing wings to increase range and safety”, it is stated on the website of the Ministry of Economy and the European Research Council.
The award was granted by the European Research Council (ERC), an institution created by the European Commission to promote scientific and technological excellence.
Ollero, who also coordinates the European project Aeroarms, for the use of drones in industrial inspections, will now have access to 5.7 million euros for five years, and will work with participating universities, research centers and companies in Spain, Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland.
For this project, the European Commission was already awarded the 2017 Innovation Radar Prize Prize late last year, the most important awarded by the European Commission for Technological Innovation, for a prototype of a robot developed in collaboration with the Center for Advanced Aerospace Technologies (CATEC), located in Aerópolis, of which Ollero is an advisor.
CATEC is part of the European AEROARMS consortium, which is at the forefront in the development of drones for industrial applications.
The drone that was the focus of the award, is a device with sensor-equipped arms that allow, for example, to determine by contact if a pipe is in good condition. It is a tool that will likely improve the occupational safety of operators who perform high-risk inspection work.
Ollero, spoke recently with Spanish media outlet La Vanguardia about this project, explaining the benefits of the drone’s unusual appendage.
“It can not only capture data and images like conventional drones, but also can manipulate objects while they are flying. That is, they are able to perform tasks such as mounting an antenna in an inaccessible site, or install cameras or sensors in places that can not be accessed or whose access cost is very complicated,” he said.
Ollero also claims that his project is a leader in the field of industrial drone technology developed in Spain.
“We have developed for the first time at the University of Seville and the CATEC projects funded by the European Commission Framework Program projects that I coordinate , as the project of the H2020 AEROARMS. Now, there are already other research centers and companies in Europe, America and Asia that have started to develop these jobs but I think we can consider ourselves as international leaders,” he says.
When asked about the practical drone applications developed by this research team, he said that, “We are carrying out inspections that require contact, such as measuring the thickness of a pipe or a deposit using ultrasonic sensors. The aerial robot flies to the pipe, which can be many metres high, and with a device with sensors placed at the end of the arm is able to come into contact with the pipe and measure its thickness moving to continue taking measures while maintaining the contact.”
The measurement of this thickness is important to see the effect of corrosion and avoid possible accidents, such as leaks that can cause explosions or pollute. It is also possible to permanently install sensors or transport and deploy a small robot with special wheels in an inaccessible place for inspection.
The AEROARMS drone certainly has the potential to find a significant market.
“The potential market in the world is more than more than 2,000 million. In Europe alone there are more than 100 refineries and 400 companies that provide inspection services in these refineries, with a market of 600 million annually,” Ollero explained.
But he is not restricting his vision for the aerial manipulator to inspection services, adding that, “In recent years, applications for infrastructure inspection or for agriculture are also growing. Another classic application is for surveillance. In the University of Seville and the CATEC we have worked in all these applications. Currently we have projects with a lot of companies that want to carry out, for example, inspection works for solar power plants, wind turbines, interior of tanks, sewers and other aspects.”
A total of 269 researchers from Europe will receive from the ERC a total of 653 million euros for research programs. Eighteen of them are Spanish and each one will have an aid of 2.5 million euros over five years to carry out their work. These scholarships not only allow researchers to execute their ideas, but also generate jobs between doctoral students and other personnel that can be hired by the scientist who receives the help.
Among the 18 Spanish scientists who will receive this prestigious scholarship is Andrés Ollero, Professor of Robotics at the Higher School of Engineers of Seville, where he researches and teaches Robotics and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones). Ollero heads the Robotics, Vision and Control group at the University of Seville, with more than 70 researchers, who has participated in 30 projects, including 11 Europeans, of which four were leaders.