Switzerland's Flyability UAS can manuever in tight places

By Ann Bailey | February 04, 2016

Swiss UAS developer Flyability, has developed an unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) that can conduct search and rescue missions in glacier crevasses and other places dangerous for humans.

The UAS is the first collision tolerant unmanned aircraft, allowing it to operate in confined spaces that can’t be reached by other technologies, Patrick Thevoz, Flyability founder and CEO said via an email interview. Because other technologies weren’t available, human access, at a high risk and cost, was required.

Search and Rescue teams who use the Flyabilty UAS also could avoid sending people into other dangerous situations including collapsed buildings, mines or the sites of chemical accidents, Thevoz said.

Researchers developed Flyability during a doctoral project in which they were studying ways to navigate UAS in complex search and rescue situations, he said. Researchers were inspired by insects, which have complex sensors and a capacity to tolerate collisions and can continue flying after an impact with an undetected object, such as a window, he said. Flyability imitated the ability to remain stable after a contact with an object.

The Flyability UAS now is being used for industrial inspections in places such as inside power plants or tanks which are too dangerous for people, Thevoz said. During the last six months, Flyability’s customers have helped to fine-tune the UAS and the company’s research team participated in training exercises with search and rescue professionals so they could get feedback on when and how the UAS can best be used.

“We were, unfortunately, at a too early stage of development during the earthquakes in Nepal, but our product is now robust enough to be deployed in a situation where it can add value to rescue teams,” Thevoz said.

The duration of the Flyability UAV is about 15 minutes, he said, adding that the distance varies depending on what is between the operator and the UAS.

“If the drone is in direct line with the pilot, the distance can be up to a mile. When inside a building, it will depend on the materials of the building.

“We are using some of the best digital transmitters to have the best possible range in confined spaces,” Thevoz said.

The Flyability research team developed six prototypes before it built a UAS system that wasn’t too heavy, Thevoz said. Accident scenes typically are harsh, unstructured environments that contain dust and smoke so the UAS must be tough enough to withstand those conditions. Meanwhile, the search and rescue teams at the accident scenes usually are not experienced UAS pilots, which means the unmanned aircraft needs to be easy to operate, Thevoz said.

“As it is collision tolerant, it can be flown by inexperienced pilots; mistakes are allowed,” he said. “This makes the drone possible to be operated by the field professionals and does not require a dedicated and highly trained pilot. Our current customers generally require about two days training before being proficient with the drone.”