Armature connecting drones: SkyTy prepares for first flight


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The hard work of rebar binding attracts a variety of technical solutions, including the SkyTy P3 drone robot attached to the rebar. Received US Contractor Notice at the 2020 World of Concrete. SkyTy – which is still in its prototype stage – uses drones to both map and then connect armature junctions. It uses a ground station, a SkyTy smart mapping drone and many more “operational” drones – their number depends on the size of the project and the desired production rates. The mapping drone is designed to be agile while the more compact drone holds the payload of the fastener and wire reel. “They are really two platforms that have been optimized for two different things.” Says Eohan George, CEO of SkyMul. “The mapping drone has a lot of optics that the drone does not need, which has been optimized for navigating between positions. The drone can also fly longer.” George says SkyTy is gaining the range of cost and throughput on larger concrete projects. “It would make sense to place our system on a 20,000-square-foot bridge surface,” he says. For ground-based panel projects, which require fewer links, SkyTy can be used on projects 30,000 square feet and above. “We can probably cut costs nearly in half in many cases, and in some cases, much more,” he says. Compared with manual tethering, SkyMul says using the SkyTy system can result in an 84% reduction in labor, 2.4 times faster production rates, and 32% lower cost. Speaking with contractors, George says his team has discovered that not all contractors have analyzed their work procedures enough to understand how much time they spend on a particular process like strapping. “At this early stage, we would really like to work with contractors who understand this in depth so that they know exactly how to introduce our system into their workflow.” George confirms that SkyTy is not designed to eliminate functionality. In fact, he says the ironworker union realizes it can help maintain production schedules, deal with worker shortages and reduce workers’ exposure to hazardous situations. SkyTy is in the works Here’s how the concept works: A crew member – or iron worker on union jobs – first determines which armature area parameter should be tied. George says this process takes about an hour. The drone automatically flies over the area, builds a map of the armature, determines the grid spacing and the empty intersections. The crew member then uses a semi-automatic interface to check the grid spacing and the accuracy of the rebar placement being placed, SkyMul says, allowing verification of “hundreds of square feet of rebar within a few minutes”. Using the coordinates provided by the drone for mapping, multiple drones can be deployed to do the actual connection and work in coordination and distancing from one another. The SkyTy drone uses a gantry system to place the splicing end directly over the armature junctions. By using the gantry system, the travel time between positions is greatly reduced, which in turn reduces the overall time constrained by the drones. “You can connect up to four junctions before the drone has to change position,” says George. Since the drones are controlled by what the drone drew, the crew members do not actually pilot the drone, but rather deal with logistics, such as swapping batteries or changing wires. George says neither the maps nor the drones are ready for use. Both the drone and the software that drives it is proprietary to SkyMul. Although they can operate simultaneously, the number of drones required even if it is a large mission is relatively small, says George. These multiple drones will not operate side by side, rather, they operate around one another to achieve the specified links. “Even if they are operating in the same area, they do so on opposite sides to reduce the chances of them being close to each other,” says George. Drones usually stay 2 to 3 feet apart. Currently, every drone needs to swap its battery every 25 minutes, tying roughly 70 to 80 links per charge and attaching one junction to the armature approximately every 20 seconds. SkyMul is also working on a more powerful battery solution for drones. What’s next SkyTy is coming in phases as SkyMul works on demonstration projects with contractors. “Our focus is on running up to five teams for up to two years to really improve the system,” says George. “We want to be really conservative in the time it takes to get to the market and we want to spend a lot of time working as a service to the contractors.” SkyMul participated in the National Science Foundation’s Innovation-Corps program, which was designed to help researchers “reduce the time needed to translate an idea to market,” according to the National Institute of Statistics, which also awarded the company a $ 200,000 grant. For this reason, George says he believes the company will undertake pilot services in the third quarter of 2022. “In the fourth quarter of this year, we hope to be able to do a trial version in an actual building environment,” he says. SkyMul is now working with a large contractor on the West Coast that has a crew of about 150 rods to explore a demonstration project. George says he’s also gotten interest from contractors building bridge decks and large slab projects, and SkyMul produced this video to explain the SkyTy operation:


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