The LD-MRS UAV detects the penguin even in his black tails

The darker the object, the
harder it is to detect as the distance increases. But penguins in the Antarctic
can now keep their black tailcoats on when a drone hovers overhead and the integrated laser scanner registers
them. For researchers and scientists who map and count penguin colonies to collect urgently required information about
the effects of global climate change, the combination of a laser scanner and
flying robotics is a new technology that certainly gets a warm welcome.

The LD-MRS laser scanner from
SICK connected to the drone demonstrates a very large working range of
300 metres despite its lightweight design. Even with black objects (10
percent remission), its scanning range is still 50 metres. This means that even when the penguin has the back
of its black tailcoat turned toward the drone, it will still be registered by the scanner. The 3D lidar
sensor captures its environment without any gaps and, thanks to the integrated
object tracking feature, reduces the time taken to count the animals across the
large population area from several weeks to just a few hours.

However, it’s not just science
that is showing a great deal of interest in the diverse range of applications
on offer. Most of the measuring and monitoring tasks that previously demanded
the expensive deployment of helicopters can now be completed with ease by the
more cost-effective UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) technology. Pipelines and
power lines as well as wind power plants that are emerging as part of the
energy revolution, can be monitored and maintained successfully using this
technology. In the forestry industry, for example, tree populations can be
studied in terms of their height,
spacing, number, and diversification with minimal effort thanks to the large
scanning range and high resolution of the measurement technology. Precise 3D
mapping to create an inventory of bulk materials on coal, ore, and waste
stockpiles become just as simple as the
measurement and charting of rivers, canals, and coastal areas. In combination
with a multispectral camera, the intelligent measurement sensors onboard UAVs collect all the necessary data to
determine the biomass and fertiliser requirements on banana plantations,
to name one example.

Originally developed for the
automotive market, the LD-MRS multi-layer laser scanner was initially kitted
out for the industrial market. “The harsh environments found in ports and
surface mining provided optimum applications, as the laser scanner with its
multi-echo technology was also reliably
able to scan through dust and rain. Due to the growing demand from the market
for drone deployments, we started to develop the product further – initially
focusing on the software,” explains Sandra Wienbeck, Product Manager,
Identification & Measuring, at SICK AG in Hamburg. Working in conjunction
with the Robotics Innovation Center at the German Research Center for
Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), a ROS (robot operating system) driver was
created for the LD-MRS, which enables the scanner to be integrated in robotics applications easily.

When it came to the specific use
of the scanner in a UAV, however, the main challenge was to reduce its weight drastically. With this in
mind, the device hardware was optimised
further – a process that involved evaluating suitable materials that would be
able to comply with the ruggedness required of an industrial product. With a current weight of 770 grams and the IP
class 69K, the LD-MRS is, first of all, one of the lightest scanners with the
highest scanning range available on the market, and secondly, it is so rugged
that it “still carries on working even after plunging into a bog,” as Sandra
Wienbeck states.

During flight, a drone generates considerable vibrations, which can lead
to significant problems with measurements in an integrated scanner. “With the
aid of simulations and data from a wide range of applications, we were able to
get rid of these risky resonances. Although it is an industrial product,
design, look, and feel was also important
to us during the development phase. Based on the principles of aerodynamics and
by making a number of adjustments, we
have arrived at the perfect compromise between stability and lightweight design,”
reports Sandra Wienbeck. The successful deployment among the penguins in the Antarctic shows that this effort has paid
off.

Sandra Wienbeck, Product Manager, Identification &
Measuring, SICK AG, Hamburg, Germany

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