So we have been making slow but steady progress with our inspection system. Since this marks our completion of ten blog posts, we decided to do a brief review of what we have accomplished so far and all that is left to be done. We set out with the intention of improving the current state of the art in industrial inspection systems, but as we moved forward, we found it better to focus more specifically towards catering to the oil and gas industry. This was spurred on by positive interest from some big names in the local oil and gas industry. They were ready to provide permissions for test areas for our system (Which we still have to work out the details of- but we have hope xD) We are going to take it as more time to perfect our system because we definitely need that. As busy undergrad students, we found it difficult to contribute all our time to this project and the forward motion has been stressfully slow but continuous.
We encountered many roadblocks along the way to this stage. We've mentioned a few in our other blog posts. We even got a couple of cool solutions from commentators on those posts, which was very helpful. A massive shout out to those people! Anyways this post is intended to give you guys a clear update of where every element of our system stands.
Firstly, the only element that is fully completed- our quadcopter frame. After multiple iterations, we settled on a simple cross-shaped frame. 3D printed out of PLA, it is ready to fly. The next thing we did was code our own FC using an Arduino board. This was also successfully done. But we decided to save this FC for a bigger quad because of mounting space issues on our current frame and hence we are using a ready-made FC for the first prototype of our inspection system quad. We faced a lot of issues while calibrating it for reasons unbeknownst to us. This was a particularly challenging FC calibration phase. It would randomly act up or stop working and we had sleepless nights trying to figure out what the problem was. After a long time we got it satisfactorily calibrated and now it is working fine- more or less. This finishes the hardware for our quadcopter- 'the inspector.'
Moving on to the methods of inspection- computer vision and sensors. Our post on the computer vision method was pretty detailed and actually got a lot of attention and review on this thread. (Thanks!) So we've trained and tested the model and it is ready to go. Coming to the sensors, we did extensive research on using infrared sensors. Another detailed post on our approach was shared. This completes our 'inspector' and its 'tools'.
Another important aspect we are trying to include is the ability to customize this inspection platform to any industry. One of the important factors to be addressed in most factory environments is the fireproofing of the system. A quadcopter has exposed motors which have a tendency of sparking when damaged. A risk that cannot be taken when being used in such an inflammable environment. So we researched into developing a fireproof Kevlar skin for the entire setup and decided it was too expensive for the initial prototype. But we have the idea and design ready for the fireproof 'skin'.
In the midst of all the brainstorming to problem solve we had to deal with another challenge. Our hardware from Sixth Sense got held up due to customs issues on our side. (Lol!) That took really long to solve, but we did it and acquired all the cool stuff, but unfortunately pretty late. We are currently in the process of figuring out ways to replace our original microcontrollers with the given board. We feel that we can use this for multiple purposes from the FC to sensor power and storage and camera control. This is seeing a truckload of hurdles right now, but we are used to the whole hit and trial method by now. We are expecting positive results soon. We also have trouble with a battery and charger that sporadically stops functioning, please suggest any good options for a LiPo battery and charger in the comments below (This is something we look forward to changing, having run out of patience.)
That's it for this update. We hope to have better news and more informative updates very soon. Stay tuned!