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INSIGHTS

Industry 4.0 boosting demand for drones that can operate without human intervention

Industry 4.0 boosting demand for drones that can operate without human intervention
As the manufacturing segment cruises towards Industry 4.0 and manufacturing processes turn smarter, drones become an integral part of industrial inspections.
As the manufacturing segment cruises towards Industry 4.0 and manufacturing processes turn smarter, drones become an integral part of industrial inspections. Naturally, this is boosting demand for autonomous drones, but it also means that there is a need for drone-makers to come up with machines that can operate without any human intervention for prolonged periods.

Archon Technologies, an Italian company that delivers autonomous robotic services using rovers and drones, is doing just that. In fact, Davide Venturelli, CEO and Co-founder of Archon, said that their system is designed like it would operate on a distant planet!

“Fault tolerance is key design – from hardware and software standpoint,” Venturelli said. “We want to deploy solutions that could be functioning months without any human intervention. Hardware fault-tolerance means the [possibility of the] use of multiple robots, all capable of ground movement. This is much more resilient to problems that might arise in precision-landing approaches. Software fault-tolerance means a redundant remote control system and an artificial intelligence backend based on modern planning and scheduling approaches.”

 Archon’s base product consists of a recharge station from which the robots would be dispatched to do inspections of an industrial site – supervises and/or unsupervised. The company currently caters to solar power plants but plans to provide voltage-line inspection and large work-site security services by the next year.

Venturelli expects investments in solar and hydro-energy to boost demand for their product. “Battery improvements are driving an important underlying technology for robot autonomy. The adherence of large industries to the whole Industry 4.0 paradigm, featuring IoT-centered designs, is a driving force for our solution.”

That the drone and robotic industry will become increasingly important in several sectors is beyond any doubt. In the energy vertical itself, for instance, most jobs could become fully automated soon. It is from this realization that the idea for Archon was born. Industries of tomorrow will need robots to do the basic work, and robots to supervise them. Archon aims to provide a common dispatch, command-and-control and robust planning to different kinds of robots to be used in industrial sites, maintaining a hardware-agnostic approach.

But perhaps more significantly, these machines are expected to become more intelligent in the coming years as developments in artificial intelligence, machine and deep learning begin to make their presence felt in this field. Venturelli has a clear idea how Archon would deal with this situation as well.

“Image-and-video analysis and generalized tactical machine learning solutions are becoming a commodity, and this is also a driving factor that increases the usefulness of robots,” Venturelli said. “We profitably integrate third party products for the data processing and visualization, which are popping up like mushrooms due to the current excitement towards deep learning – and internally we focus on the strategic multi-agent backend which is the secret sauce of our fully automated solution.”


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