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  • Zacc Dukowitz

Flyability Launches the Elios 3, an Indoor Drone Equipped with a LiDAR Sensor

Flyability recently released the third generation of its indoor drone, the Elios 3

Like the Elios and the Elios 2, the Elios 3 is protected by a cage and comes with robust collision tolerance features, including the ability to turn upside down and right itself while in flight.

One of the main things that makes the Elios 3 different from past iterations is that it comes with a LiDAR sensor made by Ouster, which allows it to collect data for making detailed 3D maps.

The new drone is powered by a proprietary engine that Flyability created just for the Elios 3. Called FlyAware, the engine uses SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) to create 3D maps in real time, while the drone is in flight.

This feature allows drone pilots to see the 3D space through which they’re flying along with the live visual feed as the drone flies, allowing them to orient themselves within an asset as they fly through it.

Almost all flights performed with Flyability’s drones are done inside industrial assets, with the pilot standing outside. This means that pilots are almost always flying BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight)—an operation that would require special permission if it were done outside, but does not for Flyability’s use cases since the flights are performed indoors—and that’s why the 3D Live Map is so useful, because it allows the pilot to see exactly where they are flying within the environment.

Here’s what the 3D Live Map looks like on the tablet:

Pilots can also use the LiDAR data collected by the Elios 3 to create survey-grade 3D models, which can be used for making digital twins to track changes to assets over time, for stockpile measurements, or to create detailed 3D blueprints of a hard-to-reach interior space.

Watch this video for an overview of the Elios 3:

What’s New with the Elios 3

Flyability has been working on the Elios 3 for four years.

According to the company, making it was the single largest project it has ever undertaken. As part of the effort to make it, Flyability partnered with researchers at top universities around the world to develop robotics-related autonomy. Through this work, Flyability joined Team Cerberus to compete in DARPA’s multi-year Sub-T challenge, and its team ended up winning.

In addition to all this work on the research, the company also spent hundreds of hours in the field, performing over 200 field tests to ensure the new drone would perform as expected.

“The Elios 3 has some of the very best stabilization in the world, a modular payload, the ability to create 3D models in real time while in flight, and it paves the way towards an increasingly autonomous future.”

  • Patrick Thévoz, Co-founder and CEO of Flyability

Here are the three primary areas where Flyability focused on in making the Elios 3:

1. Reliability

Because Elios drones are made for inspectors doing dangerous, time-sensitive work, it’s crucial that they operate the same way every time.

To address the need for maximum reliability, Flyability’s engineers focused on making both the hardware and the software behind the Elios 3 incredibly reliable so that it would operate with the same level of reliability as a common household appliance.

2. Ease of Use

While the Elios 2 was definitely easier to fly than the original Elios, the new version is even easier to fly. According to Flyability, new pilots can pick up the controller for the first time and fly an inspection mission the same day.

3. Industry-Specific Solutions

Each industry that uses robotics for inspections has its own specific needs. Some industries need high quality thermal data while others would ideally like to be able to collect data about the presence of invisible noxious gasses.

To address this need for customization, the Elios 3 comes with two payloads. One is the LiDAR sensor and the second is a modular payload, allowing inspectors to attach the sensor they need for their specific work.

“The Elios 3 is the single biggest project that Flyability has ever undertaken. If you think of the Elios 2 as your classic flip phone, only designed to make phone calls, the Elios 3 is the smartphone. It’s made to be customized for the specific demands of each user, letting you attach the payload you need so you can use the tool as you like, and allowing it to grow and improve over time with new payloads or software solutions.”

  • Adrien Briod, Co-founder and CTO of Flyability

Who Is the Elios 3 For?

The drone industry is well established now, and one way you can tell is that companies are making niche products for very specific jobs.

Flyability is one of those companies. It really only makes one line of drones—the Elios line—of which it has now released three versions.

These drones are made specifically to fly inside dangerous confined spaces like boilers, pressure vessels, or big sewer pipes in order to collect inspection data. Up to now, that data has been primarily visual—pictures and video. With the launch of the Elios 3, inspectors can now also collect LiDAR data inside confined space, allowing them to create 3D models of the interior of the assets they’re inspecting.

The work of inspecting confined spaces is incredibly important for several industries, including Oil & Gas, Power Generation, and Mining. In all of these, and a lot more, inspectors who don’t have a way to collect data remotely with a drone or some other robot have to collect it in person, by crawling into the confined space.

And this work is not only dangerous, but really expensive. To enter a confined space for inspections, inspectors will often have to erect scaffolding and stand on it, working at heights of 80 feet or more.

The scaffolding alone can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the time it takes to put it up and take it down can lead to millions lost in downtimes for the plant where the inspection is being done. And drones like the Elios 3 make this kind of inspection work a lot safer and a lot cheaper.

While there are companies like Wingtra, which makes drones primarily for long-range mapping missions, or Flyability, which makes drones primarily for confined space inspections, there are also companies that make drones primarily for aerial cinematography.

DJI makes a huge range of drones just for this purpose. One freelance photographer might use a Mavic 3 Cine to shoot a travel video to promote their YouTube channel, while another might shoot a wedding on a Mini 3 Pro. High-end cinematographers, on the other hand, might turn to a company like Freefly and use its Alta for capturing cinematic shots for making movies.

As the drone industry continues to grow, we’re sure to see more and more drones created for specific purposes. Before long we may see a drone made just for fighting fires, or tiny ones made only to pollinate flowers. Only time will tell.


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