Flyability Elios 2 – To boldly go where no drone has gone before…
When you think of aerial inspections some of the most common applications that spring to mind might involve wide open spaces with plenty of room to manoeuvre, such as large buildings, power lines, solar farms, construction sites and so. However, there’s also a growing demand for inspections in rather less hospitable locations – and that’s where the newly announced Flyability Elios 2 comes into its own.
When the original was launched back in 2016, it was notable for one key feature: the all-encompassing carbon-fibre protective frame. With the robust, but suitably flexible, frame coated in a soft covering it was essentially a ‘bubble’ for the drone inside, which gave the Elios the unique ability of being ‘collision tolerant’. This is opposed to the more complicated collision detection technology you might find on the likes of the DJI Inspire 2 or DJI M200 Series models, so while it can’t see and automatically avoid any potential obstacles, it will quite happily bounce off them and carry on with its task.
In simple terms, this sets up the Elios, and now it’s much more advanced successor the Elios 2, as being perfect for indoor inspections or in places where space is much more restrictive. All of the major utility providers would be some obvious locations for its use, such as oil rigs or other highly industrialised areas full of steel frames, pipelines, storage tanks, chimney stacks, drainage, cramped stairwells and so on. It could also be used to study caves or tunnel networks, where visibility is low and the surrounding risk factors are high. Needless to say it also ranks highly for those with BVLOS aspirations because a lot of these places aren’t easy to get a human operator into.
If you wanted to take a standard drone into these areas you’re going to be asking a lot of either the pilot or the on-board technology. And besides, square pegs don’t go into round holes so taking anything with a large wingspan into tight spaces can be asking for trouble. With its sphere surround coming in at just under 40cm (15.7 inches) the Elios 2 can fit into a space smaller than your average manhole cover and will happily bump and fly its way around whatever is inside, taking high-resolution stills and video or beaming HD footage back to the operator in real time, packing both a thermal and 4K camera into its payload.
While Flyability likes to promote the key benefits of the Elios range as being about reducing the risks of sending humans into dangerous places, improving efficiency by doing inspections much quicker than traditional methods and, subsequently, reducing costs by reducing any downtime if you have to close things down, the same could be said to be true about just any aerial inspection drone. The Elios 2 really stands out by being able to deliver the same high quality results as most of the leading commercial models, but from places that those craft would fear to fly.
“At the heart of Flyability products lies collision-tolerance. It is the true enabler to gathering data in the intricate and hostile places where our customers are searching for insights.” Patrick Thévoz, CEO of Flyability
At Home in the Dark
While the original Elios made its name more from the collision tolerance factor, it’s clear that Flyability has looked to build upon that one key feature – and the Elios 2 is a far more intelligent and adaptable craft, with much more in the way of flight modes and smart features for improved data collection.
For starters, the new model comes with seven stability sensors that greatly improve its GPS-free stabilisation. And, let’s face it, if you’re flying indoors or inside drainage pipes or a large cave then you’re not always going to have a good signal – and so this means that the Elios 2 is far more capable than most of remaining smooth and steady, even in the most remote locations.
It also boasts an improved Attitude mode that helps to keep the craft balanced in relation to the natural horizon. The Elios 2 sees improvements to its reversibility motors, so when it comes to sudden changes in direction (whether planned corrections or as the result of bumping into something and tilting the drone off course), the model will automatically and near-seamlessly correct itself into a natural flying position.
The Elios 2 also has a greatly improved lighting set-up. Obviously most of the potential locations we’ve mentioned aren’t going to have much in terms of natural lighting, and so being able to see where you’re going and getting a clear picture of what you want to inspect is crucial. The newer model has a similar arrangement of LEDs to provide lighting to the front, top and bottom of the craft, but now packs a bumper 10,000 lumens of juice, making it as close to daylight in those darkest corners as you’ll get.
This ties into two other new features, with the Oblique Lighting mode able to now see and potentially detect potential cracks or other imperfections in the structure by creating and analysing shadows. The Elios 2 is not only both splash and dust resistant, but also now boasts the ability to see in less than perfect conditions, with the Dustproof Lighting System offering up crystal clear images when the human eye might otherwise struggle to see through the haze. Again, this is ideal in close-quarters operations where the downdraft of the rotors is likely to be kicking up dust and debris but the Elios 2 should be more than capable of giving you a clear view of your surroundings.
“(The Elios 2) is an intuitive-to-fly drone fitted with an unobstructed 4K camera that can hover in place to spot sub-millimetre cracks. It performs reliably in GPS-denied environments, in dark, dusty and troubled airflows, beyond line of sight, and particularly in places that no other drone can access.” Dr. Adrien Briod, Co-Founder and CTO of Flyability
Another new feature that should prove a big help to those needing accurate and consistent results from their inspection work is the Distance Lock. This enables the operator to set a specific distance from an object, from 30-200cm (or 1-6ft), and the craft will remain at that distance as you fly parallel to it, making it perfect for gathering comparable and consistent data when inspecting the likes of pipelines and drains, or large interiors such as warehouses or oil tanks.
When it comes to post-production of your data, the upgraded Cockpit 2 and Inspector 2 software packages are both bundled with loads to great features to making everything from your initial flight planning to the final analytics even easier. With Inspector 2 you can even now draw lines on the screen along walls or beams and the software will draw accurate 2D measurements based on that precise data collection (which has accuracy down to 0.18mm/px). This streamlined system is compatible with a variety of third-party photogrammetry software (such as Pix4D) which makes the likes of 3D modelling and mapping a much more natural step in your workflow.
As for the collection of the aforementioned data, the Elios 2 offers a Lepton thermal camera providing a resolution of 160 x 120 at 9fps, so even without the lighting system you’ve got everything you need to see in the dark – or perhaps more practically to check for heat loss/gain where it’s not wanted or the presence of toxic chemicals and other potential hazards.
This is housed in the same front-facing and shockproof payload as the new and improved 4K camera, capable of shooting 12.3MP stills or recording footage up to 3840 x 2160 Ultra HD at 30fps. It is also now able to live-stream back to the operator in Full HD so that if you’re looking to operate from that first-person perspective (and, again, in many of the locations we’ve mentioned this will be quite commonplace) then you can assured of a high-quality image courtesy of its impressive wireless transmission system.
The Perfect Inspection Drone for Confined Spaces
It’s hard to compare the Elios 2 to the likes of DJI’s finest because it’s designed to handle the tasks that more traditional drones would find outside their comfort zone. The 10-minute flight times might seem a little short in comparison but then the Elios 2 is built differently to standard inspection models and Flyability has packed an awful lot of very impressive technology into this small package (it’s double the weight of the original Elios but still maintains the same flight time).
It also benefits from a easily detachable modular design, which not only makes swapping out those batteries a very quick and easy process, it also means that any maintenance, running repairs or even replacement parts needn’t come at the cost and inconvenience of being grounded for very long.
Although the Elios 2 is billed as being for “visual inspections in confined spaces”, it’s as much about being able to operate in places where you wouldn’t want to risk your Inspire 2, let alone the inherent dangers to taking a human into dark and inhospitable places. That said there’s no reason why the two couldn’t work in perfect harmony, with one of the usual suspects being used for the external inspections of a construction site, gas plant or oil rig from a safe distance, while the Elios 2 gets into all of those hard-to-reach corners and dimly lit interiors.
After all, inspecting the outside of pipes would only show the damage that’s already seeped through (or external wear and tear) whereas being able to get the inside view could help you identify and tackle potential maintenance before it becomes a problem. With the Elios 2 you can safely operate within such locations and see places and gather data that would otherwise be unreachable. And when it comes to inspection work – and potentially saving your company vast sums of money and time – there’s no such thing as too much data…