Researchers Found A Good Reason To Attach A Nail Gun To A Flying Drone

Photo: Matthew Romano, Michigan Robotics, University of Michigan

Last month the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration issued a warning against attaching weapons to drones, but researchers at the University of Michigan have come up with a strong case in favour of strapping a nail gun to an autonomous flying robot, and it has nothing to do with cartoonish hijinx.

Prototypes of drones delivering packages have been demonstrated time and time again, but to date, autonomous multi-rotor aircraft have been limited to carrying out inspections of structures that can be very dangerous for humans to climb, like bridges and wind turbines, or other reconnaissance applications.

Researchers at the University of Michigan believe there’s far more potential for them, including taking over more hands-on jobs that can be potentially just as dangerous for humans.

That’s why the research team strapped a professional-grade nail gun to an octocopter. It’s capable of autonomously flying the nailer to the roof of a home, and then automatically securing asphalt shingles using a system of location markers and video cameras to know exactly where to drive each and every nail.

It’s nowhere near as fast as a professional roofer is at the task in its current form, but the team is already working on ways to speed up its performance while maintaining accuracy.

But speed isn’t necessarily the primary reason for replacing humans with drones for jobs like this. Climbing up onto a roof to install shingles is a dangerous task, and having to haul a heavy automatic nail gun up with you definitely doesn’t make it any safer.

Eventually, a swarm of drones could be deployed on a new house, laying shingles and nailing them into place, and they could quickly move from house to house in a new neighbourhood to streamline at least part of the long construction process.

That would also require the researchers to find a way around this prototype drone’s very limited 10 minutes of flight time. But a cable tethering it to a generator on the ground could deliver both the necessary power for unlimited flight times and compressed air to improve the performance of the nail gun as these drones wouldn’t need to travel tens of miles on their own. In this case, extra wires would be a good thing.

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