UAS startup Apellix focusing on dangerous painting jobs

By Ann Bailey | January 28, 2016

Apellix founder Robert Dahlstrom believes he has developed an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that can save lives by limiting human work required during industrial construction and painting scenarios. Dahlstrom, of Jacksonville, Florida, has developed an industrial robotics system which will negate the need for workers to perform their jobs at dangerous heights.

The Apellix Worker Bee is a robotics system made up of a UAS quadicopter attached to a base station with an umbilical cord and tether and custom software. The system can perform jobs such as window washing and chemical application, Dahlstrom said.

Dahlstrom, a software developer, got the idea for the system he calls the Worker Bee while he was painting his beach house which is on stilts. After climbing up and down scaffolding several times, Dahlstrom thought there should be an easier way to paint, he said. About a year and a half ago, his employees began developing a robotics system, beginning with a single can of compressed air attached to a UAS.

Engineers at Appellix, the company started by Dahlstrom, now are working on their fourth version of the system. The Worker Bee can perform jobs at heights of 20 stories.

“Where we’re focusing is the safety aspect. I know a ton of people who have fallen off ladders and got hurt,” Dahlstrom said. Each year, hundreds of workers die from falls from ladders, scaffolding and structures, according to the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. 

Besides eliminating the risk of falling, the Apellix Worker Bee provides a safer alternative to perform jobs such as de-icing airplanes because workers would not be breathing in chemicals, Dahlstrom said. Meanwhile, because the Worker Bee has sensors and gathers data such as application rates, using it could reduce chemical run-off, Dahlstrom believes.

Another application for the Worker Bee is to use it to spray pesticides in the holds of ships. Under law the holds of ships that store food must be fumigated to destroy insects.

In the ship fumigating scenario,  a worker not have to don a suit and wear a respirator with goggles to perform the job.  

Dahlstrom is looking for industry partners for Apellix. Two companies already have signed letters of intent, he said.

Meanwhile, a Japanese power company asked Dahlstrom to submit a proposal to paint transmission towers, Dahlstrom said, adding that painters are retiring and younger people are not applying for their jobs, Dahlstrom said. Apellix was one of three finalists for the Japanese power company job, he said. The power company eventually decided to hire one of the other two finalists, but Dahlstrom said he was encouraged by its interest. The winning firm was also proposing the use of UAVs to work on the transmission towers. 

Dahlstrom hopes to have Worker Bee launched by September 2016. In the meantime, he and his advisory board will continue to look for additional applications for Worker Bee, Dahlstrom said.