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A View from Kristina Grifantini

iRobot Founder's Startup to Develop UAVs for Bridge Inspection

CyPhy Works receives a $2.4 million grant.

  • December 16, 2009

We found out in June that the stealth robotics company created by iRobot founder Helen Greiner would work on unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) for emergency response. Now the company has revealed that these UAVs will also be used to inspect bridges, dams and other infrastructure.

Formerly known as The Droid Works, and now called CyPhy Works, the company has received a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Technology Innovation Program (TIP) grant of $2.4 million. CyPhy Works will work with researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology to develop small, hovering UAVs equipped with video cameras and sensors.

According to a press release from the company:

If successful, the project will produce an advanced class of UAVs that would enable entirely novel, efficient, and relatively low-cost techniques for monitoring the health of the nation’s existing civil infrastructure.

While many researchers are working on small, hovering robots for search-and-rescue, surveillance, and structure monitoring, controlling and coordinating these aircraft remains a challenge. Many UAV projects currently use GPS to navigate, but this is not very precise and does not work inside buildings.

CyPhy Works apparently plans to develop a more precise navigation system. It has plans for two types of monitoring: Robotic Assisted Inspection, where a UAV slowly flies along a structure taking high resolution images, and Autonomous Robotic Monitoring, where a UAV stays at a structure and routinely checks for potential dangerous changes on its own. It will be interesting to see if the company can make the latter approach work, and what techniques it develops for stabilizing the UAVs in high wind.

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