The aerial inspection technology we have begun developing in Phase I shows promise for a commercializable system. Our team has supporting technology in place and the relevant background to bring this innovation to TRL 6 through the Phase II effort. Our contacts in industry state strong cases for the usefulness and marketability of this innovation.
The team will develop towards the project objectives within the following nine project tasks: (1) define requirements and concepts of operation, (2) develop a robust visual state estimation method, (3) develop improved aircraft configuration and controls for effective contact maneuvering, (4) develop a user interaction paradigm and user interface prototype, (5) develop sensing subsystem with new sensor, (6) develop integrated imaging and lighting, and improved contact mechanism, (7) perform system integration and testing, (8) perform in-field system demonstrations, and (9) pursue commercialization paths and plan for Phase III.
For the outcome of Phase II, we set the following as the primary development goal: To collect an array of contact measurements and imagery on a realistic structure in one flight and create registered data products. The demonstration will aim to follow the baseline CONOPS developed early in the project. The team will create a photo-rendered 3D model of the structure first for context. With inspectors and/or asset owners present, the team will operate the sUAS to perform multiple inspection flights. Each flight will perform a grid of contact measurements, including macro-imaging. Flights will be performed under remote control for take-off and landing and autonomously during the sensing array maneuvers. Final data products will be created off-line and shared with the inspection subject matter experts. This demonstration process will serve as a means of validating system requirements, verifying that the system meets requirements, and continuing engagement for commercialization efforts.
In-Space: Spacecraft exterior inspection while in-orbit or in transit; aerial contact inspection/aerial manipulation have additional uses aligned with NASA's interests.
Terrestrial: Inspections of NASA facilities and equipment such as wind tunnels, pressure vessels, test stands, and rocket stands; inspection of planes and rockets during and after the assembly process (e.g. measuring gap thicknesses between panels to check that they are within specification).
Inspection work for a range of structures; applicable to industrial equipment, civil infrastructure and buildings. Examples: vessels such as liquid storage tanks and water towers; smokestacks; industrial facilities with boilers, gantries, large ducts, etc.; bridges for rail, car, and foot traffic; buildings, interior and exterior.