By Scott Simmie, InDro Robotics

Imagine, for a moment, the challenges of owning and maintaining a remote asset. Further picture that it’s, say, an unstaffed electrical substation located some 800 kilometres from your base of operations. The area is prone to fog, rain and snow. To top things off, the last 200 kilometres consist of a washboard gravel road. There are no hotels or other accommodation nearby.

Keeping a watchful eye on such a facility poses challenges.

 

The old way…

 

Companies have traditionally relied on one of two methods – or a combination of both – to monitor remote assets. The most common solution has been to install security cameras and motion sensors and simply keep an eye on monitors. In addition, companies often dispatch employees for occasional inspections.

Unfortunately, fog and rain often mean the security cameras can’t get a clear picture. Even on a decent day, these cameras can’t get up close and personal to truly inspect the assets and determine whether maintenance might be required. Dispatching an employee costs time and money – and isn’t something you can afford to do on a frequent basis.

But you also can’t afford to to not know what’s happening. After all, it’s an expensive and critical asset. If only there was a way to have boots on the ground…without actually dispatching an employee.

It’s precisely this kind of scenario – as well as many others – that has led InDro Robotics to create a solution. It’s a ground-based, all-terrain/all-weather robot designed from the ground-up to allow easy monitoring anywhere, anytime – and all from the comfort of your base of operations.

 

InDro Robotics “Sentinel”

 

That’s it – right there in the picture below. Now let us tell you why we’re so excited about this product.

 

InDro Robotics Sentinel

A workhorse

 

Sentinel is built on the rugged AgileX Bunker platform. The weather-resistant Bunker has a range of 10 kilometres and can take on pretty much any terrain. Its track system features differential rotation, allowing the operator to get up close and personal with any asset – all without leaving the office.

But that’s just the beginning. Sentinel is packed with features that allow for easy collection of meaningful data, including:

 

  • 20x optical zoom for detailed inspection
  • Radiometric thermal imaging to detect anomalies
  • 4G/5G connectivity for remote teleoperation
  • Web-based console and cloud storage for operations and data
InDro ROLL-E

Sentinel is also simple to operate. Using an intuitive handheld controller, the operator has full control over Sentinel’s operations while watching a real-time live video stream from the robot’s RGB and thermal sensors. The display includes data on battery reserves, CPU usage, GPS location and more.

We’ve pulled together a brief video to give you a better sense of what it can do:

A deeper technical dive

 

What helps pull all of these abilities together is another InDro innovation. It’s a box that contains the brains and sensor/data interfaces that make Sentinel so easy to use. That box contains an onboard EDGE computing device utilizing a Jetson NVIDIA processor, and also the industry-standard Robot Operating System (ROS) software required for the various sensors. We call this solution InDro Commander, and you can read about it here.

You could think of Commander as kind of like a symphony conducter, bringing all the various elements together in a synergic fashion. And yes, there are plenty of key elements, including a wiper for the 20x optical camera – even a thermal defogging component for the lens.

All of this – and more – in a package that’s nearly impervious to the elements.

The robot, and its ‘doghouse’ are IP67 rated, meaning they’re protected from contact with harmful dust, sand, ice shards, hail, rain and water sprays,” explains InDro Account Executive Luke Corbeth.

“Once returning home, the ground vehicle comes in contact with the charging pad and is wirelessly fast charged. This means that Sentinel can withstand many environmental conditions with minimal maintenance required. With that said, should it need maintenance it has a modular design so unlike other UGVs, the brains are separate from the body. As a result, if a component malfunctions we can simply replace it with a new one and bring the damaged one in for repairs to reduce on-site downtime.”

The secure, browser-based operations console is a snap to learn and provides live data while Sentinel is being operated. Whether it’s monitoring for intruders or checking the temperature of assets for preventative maintenance, Sentinel has you covered. Check out the zoom capabilities in the screengrabs below: 

InDro Robotics Sentinel
InDro Robotics Sentinel

Sentinel is up for the task(s)

Though we’ve focussed on inspection – there are many different kinds of inspection for which Sentinel is well-suited. These include:

Operational rounds

Also known as preventative maintenance, these kind of inspections are designed to identify potential problems before they become serious. Here, both optical and thermal data can plan key roles. The ability to identify anomalies before they become problematic can be accomplished through regularly scheduled tasks and data analytics.

Emergency Response

Emergencies, by their very nature, are unpredictable. They tend to happen quickly and without warning. The ability to respond to emergencies depends both on a response plan and the ability to obtain situational awareness as rapidly as possible. Sentinel is built to withstand hazardous environments and provide treads on the ground immediately – regardless of how remote your operation is. (And yes, this robust device is also suitable for First Responders.)

Security monitoring

“Maintaining the security of critical infrastructure is vital to minimizing downtime, customer attrition, reputation loss and compliance costs,” explains InDro’s Luke Corbeth. 

Sentinel can not only keep a regular watchful eye using its RGB Tilt-Pan-Zoom camera, but also has the added benefit of radiometric thermal imaging. In this example, an intruder is quickly detected by their heat signature. And while this was shot during daylight hours, there’s no such thing as the “cover of night” when using thermal sensors:

 

InDro Robotics Sentinel Thermal

Built for the future

 

While many users will want to dispatch Sentinel using a human operator, the robot can also be programmed for scheduled missions using a pre-planned path. Whether its once a week or twice a day, Sentinel can carry out these missions with no human intervention. And that’s just the beginning.

“With InDro Commander and the Jetson onboard, Sentinel has the ability to learn change detection and obstacle avoidance,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece. “And with the addition of a LiDAR sensor, this machine could even carry out SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) missions in unfamiliar environments.”

It also has some distinct advantages over a UAV, says Reece.

“Drones are great in certain situations, but regulatory permissions for Beyond Visual Line of Sight operations are not easy for companies to obtain. Sentinel does not require a permit and is easy to operate. Plus, with its optical zoom and thermal capabilities, this robot makes it simple to acquire detailed data of any asset visible from the ground.”

InDro Robotics is now taking orders for Sentinel – and even arranging remote “test-drives” for prospective clients. You can contact Luke Corbeth for more information here.