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Rationale and impacts

Drones are today deployed as piloted single-drone solutions. However, the early adoption of drone technology for practical operations shows a lack of scalability, resiliency, and efficiency of operation to fully disrupt the current state of practice. Practical drone operations face several challenges including a low drone-to-pilot ratio, limited network access, poor communication and navigation signal quality, and long duration time of missions.

Drone swarms introduce flexibility, scalability, and fault-tolerant operation that alleviate these challenges. Swarms offer “aggregation” such that a pilot can supervise several drones simultaneously. Swarms can extend and enhance communication and navigation infrastructures by reconfiguring drones as communication relays or RTK base stations, respectively. Swarms provide scaling of missions as swarms can parallelize mission execution thereby shortening the overall duration of the mission.

The purpose of the project is to design an efficient, reliable, and scalable drone swarm for autonomous missions in inhibited environments through a collaboration between academia and industry. Swarm operation is an attractive added value to the operation of drones that has the potential of bringing increased competitiveness to the Danish robot ecosystem. The project will start at Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 4 and advance key technologies: powerline inspections, cooperative algorithms (SLAM and VIO), and WiFi mesh networking with drone swarms to TRL 6.  

Expected impacts:

The project addresses the smart, green, and safe transportation focus area. Drones are powerful tools for inspection of safety critical inspections where they have the potential to advance current operations by significantly lowering costs and increasing the safety of human inspectors. Furthermore, the project contributes to the climate and sustainability agenda by supporting proactive maintenance of critical infrastructure thereby mitigating risks of future large repair costs. The use of autonomous drones is advancing digitalization by the design of intelligent systems that improve efficiency, security, and safety in society.