New InDro Controller: A simple solution to complex robotics missions

New InDro Controller: A simple solution to complex robotics missions

By Scott Simmie

 

InDro Robotics – as always – has been hard at work on innovative new products. And we’re particularly proud of our latest accomplishment: The InDro Controller.

It’s an all-in-one solution for operating virtually any type of robot from a highly secure console. It’s completely robot-agnostic, very easy to use – and exceedingly powerful. We’ll get into the details as we go, but first let’s hear from Front End Developer RJ Bundy with an elevator pitch.

“It’s an all-in-one data visualization, robot management and robot control software,” he says. “Whether you’re a student first learning how to use a robot or you’re a commercial giant, you’d be able to manage and maintain all of your robots.”

He’s not exaggerating. We walked through a demo of this system recently, with Head of R&D Sales Luke Corbeth at the controls and Bundy explaining the various features. We connected remotely with one of our InDro robots. The software immediately detected all of the sensors on the platform, offering up a display of windows showing the data they were collecting with minimal latency.

“It can handle all sorts of data,” says Bundy. “It doesn’t matter if the robot has standard or custom sensors, InDro Controller can automatically detect and visualize them. For example, if you added a radar unit to an existing robot, the system will pick up on that immediately.”

Of course, it has teleoperation. Missions can be run manually or autonomously (with InDro’s autonomy stack loaded onto any ROS-based robot).

“We have a GPS-based autonomy – which is better for outdoors – and then we have a SLAM- (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping) based autonomy which is ideal for indoors,” says Corbeth.

And while InDro Controller has very complex capabilities, it’s a snap to use.

“Once it’s set up, it’s pretty straightforward to initiate the mission. Even someone without any robotics knowledge could do it,” he adds.

Below: The Pilot View mode in InDro Controller. Data from any desired sensors is displayed with minimal latency via a highly secure connection.

Teleoperations

HIGHLY SECURE

 

Regardless of whether you’re a startup, researcher, or a major corporation collecting sensitive data – security is important. InDro Controller has been built with that in mind.

“We’ve created an interface that makes it very hard for a third party to intercept any of those commands or the data coming from the robot to you.”

Though the person controlling the robot is the primary login, others with a secure login can also monitor the missions remotely from anywhere in the world. The software can store as many repeatable missions as you can throw at it, and you can initiate a previously stored mission with a single click.

 

MISSION PLANNING

 

Mission planning could not be simpler.

For the first mission, the pilot would manually control the robot. InDro Controller uses an Xbox controller plugged into your computer for intuitive operation (though other options are available). All buttons on the Xbox device can be quickly mapped to carry out specific functions.

InDro Controller tracks everything you’ve done – and we mean everything – and saves it as a repeatable autonomous mission.

“If you manually drive the robot somewhere, it will remember it’s been there and it’ll be able to go back, follow that same path every time. It will also remember to carry out any specific actions you’ve taken at those points of interest, including camera angles, zoom, etc.” says Bundy.

The mission planner also automatically loads a map to locate your robot (you also have the option of satellite view), so you can monitor exactly where it is on any given mission.

And, of course, it can do this for an entire fleet of robots.

Below: InDro Controller shows Points of Interest – which can be repeated with saved missions

Robot Teleoperation

HIGHLY CUSTOMISABLE

 

InDro Controller has been designed to allow users to easily customise the user interface for any robot, any mission, and any dashboard view. Multiple streams of data, including upload and download speeds, battery levels and overall robot health are available at a glance. Oh, and did we mention it also works with third-party autonomy stacks?

“The dashboard, the cameras, the heads up display on the autonomous missions – those all can be customised,” says Bundy. “We’re also adding other personal user customisations, like a light and dark mode, metric conversion, schedule missions – all the kinds of features you could want.”

InDro Controller already works exceptionally well. But – as with all of our R&D projects – it will continually be refined with additional features and functionality.

“We’re heavily invested in continuously improving the software,” says Corbeth. “So regardless of which version you’re shipped, know that this is something that InDro Robotics is constantly developing and improving with client feedback in mind to ultimately provide the best mission planning, teleoperations and development software tool in the robotics industry.”

Speaking of versions, there’s a simpler version of InDro Controller – which does not have the autonomy features – already being used for missions in the academic world. Feedback has been excellent.

“Users tell us they find it InDro Controller Lite exceedingly powerful, but also very simple to use. That was exactly our goal in developing this product,” says Corbeth.

Academics and corporate innovation groups could take advantage of the Lite version, while the InDustrial package is intended for solving more complex problems in an industrial environment

 

SATISFYING R&D

 

For Front End Developer Bundy, who oversaw this project with support from other engineering staff, it’s been a hugely satisfying – and challenging – project.

“A lot of the customization features were pretty difficult because it has to be robust and dynamic, which is always tough,” he says. “This is a relatively complicated application and I’ve managed to put together something pretty nice and functional – and it will only get better. “I’ve had a bunch of other help, but putting together the UI for InDro Controller has been, and continues to be, highly satisfying.”

Teleoperating Robots

INDRO’S TAKE

 

We’re obviously excited about InDro Controller. And we’re particularly excited because we have a forthcoming piece of hardware – the InDro Module. It’s a small box with a lot of brains that can be added to any robot to increase functionality and enable the seamless addition of sensors and other modifications (as well as pre-loaded autonomy stack and ROS drivers). We’ll have more on that soon, but it’s the perfect match for InDro Controller for users with complex requirements.

For the moment, we’re looking forward to putting both the Lite and InDustrial versions into the hands of clients.

“When we first began remote teleoperation several years ago, we relied on third-party software as the UI,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece. “But we found it wasn’t powerful or customisable enough for our needs. It also required that we have our own autonomy stack – and we did – but many clients do not. InDro Controller comes with our proprietary autonomy stacks for both outdoor and GPS-denied locations. And, as noted previously, this is a long-term project, where even early adopters can be assured the package will be continuously refined with additional features.”

Word has already been spreading in the R&D and commercial fields about this product, and the feedback from those using the Lite version has been outstanding. Interested in learning more or seeing a demo? Contact Luke Corbeth here.

InDro Robotics ROS-based drone an R&D powerhouse

InDro Robotics ROS-based drone an R&D powerhouse

By Scott Simmie

 

InDro Robotics is pleased to unveil details of its highly capable new R&D drone.

Running the Robot Operating System (ROS) and with powerful onboard compute capabilities, the drone is perfect for advanced Research and Development.

“It’s a drone geared toward R&D first and foremost,” explains Luke Corbeth, Head of R&D Sales. “It truly is a flying robot – and you can program and use it in a very similar fashion to all our other robots.”

There’s a real demand in the research world for open-source drones that can be programmed and run highly complex algorithms. These kinds of drones can be used to study swarm behaviour, object detection and identification, mapping in GPS-denied locations and much more.

For some researchers, the budget go-to has been the Crazyflie, a micro-drone that uses a Raspberry Pi for compute. Its advantage is that it’s quite affordable. But its low cost, 27 gram weight and relatively low computing power means it has limitations – including the ability add sensors of any weight.

“This drone can do so much more,” says Corbeth. “With the NVIDIA Xavier NX onboard for compute, it can effectively map entire environments. And when it comes to landing and object recognition, it’s truly phenomenal. It can even land on a moving vehicle.”

Below: A look at InDro’s new drone, which comes complete with LiDAR, a depth-perception camera, 5G connectivity – and much more.

InDro ROS drone

THE BACK STORY

 

If you’ve been following the latest news from InDro, you’ll be aware we have an incubation agreement with Cypher Robotics. That company builds solutions for cycle counting and precision scanning in the industrial/supply chain space. InDro assisted with the development of its signature product, Captis.

Captis integrates an autonomous ground robot with a tethered drone. As the Captis robot autonomously navigates even narrow stock aisles, the drone ascends from a tether attached to that ground robot. The drone then scans the barcodes (it’s code-agnostic) of the products on the shelves. All of that data is transferred seamlessly, in real-time, to the client’s Warehouse Management System (WMS), WCS (Warehouse Control System) and WES (Warehouse Execution System) software.

The capabilities of Captis led to a partnership with global AI fulfilment experts GreyOrange and leading global telco innovator Ericsson. The product debuted at the recent MODEX2024 conference (one of the biggies in the automated supply chain world), where it gained a *lot* of attention.

While working on the project, it was always clear the drone – thanks to multiple modifications – would be highly suitable as a research and development tool. It’s capable of machine vision/object recognition, machine learning, and can find its way around in completely unfamiliar, GPS-denied environments.

“In fact, I have one client that’s using it for research in mines,” says Corbeth.

 

THE JETSON DIFFERENCE

 

NVIDIA has made quite a name for itself – and quite a profit for its shareholders – with its powerful AI-capable processors. The Jetson Xavier NX features a 6-core NVIDIA Carmel Arm®v8.2 64-bit processor running at speeds of up to 1.9 GHz. Its graphics processor unit features a 384-core NVIDIA Volta™ architecture with 48 Tensor Cores. Put it all together, and the computing power is astonishing: The Xavier NX is rated with a maximum achievable output of 21 TOPS – trillion operations per second. (We were going to try to count, but thought it more efficient to rely on NVIDIA’s specs for this.)

The LiDAR unit currently shipping with the drone also has some flex. It’s the Ouster 32-channel OS1 (Rev6.2). With a maximum range of 200 metres (90 metres on a dark, 10 per cent target), its powerful L3 chip is capable of processing scans of up to 5.2 million points per second with 128 channels of vertical resolution (again, we didn’t count). Hostile environment? No problem. The LiDAR can operate from -40°C to 60°C and has an IP68 Ingress Protection rating.

The OS1 is designed for all-weather environments and use in industrial automation, autonomous vehicles, mapping, smart infrastructure, and robotics,” states its manufacturer“The OS1 offers clean, dense data across its entire field of view for accurate perception and crisp detail in industrial, automotive, robotics, and mapping applications.”

The unit uses open source ROS and C++ drivers, and comes with Ouster’s Software Development Kit. Its ability to accurately sense its environment (down to distances of 0.5 metres away), combined with the NVIDIA processor and the depth camera also allows this machine to do something pretty extraordinary: It can recognise and land on a moving platform.

“That’s a very challenging problem to solve and requires not only specific sensing but also really powerful onboard compute. This drone can do it,” explains Corbeth.

Already, word about the product has been spreading. A number of units have already been sold to academic institutions for research purposes – and the team has been hard at work building and testing for the next set of orders (as seen below).

THE FORGE CONNECTION

 

Like all new products, the new drone required custom parts. We looked no further than InDro Forge, our rapid prototyping and limited production run facility in Ottawa.

Using state of the art additive and subtractive tools, the Forge team created custom mounts using carbon fibre and other strong but lightweight materials, while also ensuring the frame was robust enough to take on even the most challenging environments where these drones will be deployed.

“InDro Forge has been critical to the finished product,” says Corbeth. “We wanted a look, feel and quality that matches this drone’s capabilities – and InDro Forge delivered.”

InDro ROS drone

INDRO’S TAKE

 

We’re obviously excited about the capabilities of this new drone, and we’re not alone. Interest in this product from researchers has already been significant. In fact, we’re not aware of any other drone on the market offering this combination of specific capabilities.

It was that void – in concert with our partnership with Cypher Robotics – that led to its creation.

“InDro has always placed a great emphasis on the development of innovative new products,” says CEO Philip Reece. “We build new products at the request of clients and also develop our own when we see a market opportunity. In this case, the requirements for Cypher Robotics dovetailed nicely with demand for such a drone from researchers.”

Production of the new drone is moving at a swift pace. If you’re interested in a briefing or demo, you can contact us here.

Blue Books offer crucial guides for First Responder RPAS programs

Blue Books offer crucial guides for First Responder RPAS programs

By Scott Simmie

 

There are two important tools available for First Responders who use RPAS in their work.

No, they’re not drones. Instead, they are guides for developing safe and effective RPAS programs – and for carrying out low-risk BVLOS flight in the near future. These “Blue Books” are intended for fire departments, Search and Rescue organisations – and more.

These guides came about because the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association and the Search and Rescue Volunteer Association of Canada identified a need for clear and credible reference documents. InDro Robotics received the contract to pull these books together, under the expertise of Kate Klassen and with a generous grant from the Government of Canada’s Search and Rescue New Initiatives Fund.

Kate was an early adopter in the drone world and already had a solid background in traditional aviation. She’s a flight instructor with multi-engine and Instrument Flight Rules ratings, as well as ratings for flying at night. She loves nothing more (with the exception of her two young daughters) than poring through regulations and working with bodies like Transport Canada to help safely advance the use of drones in Canadian airspace.

In other words, she was perfect for the job.

That’s Kate, in her element, below:

 

DRONES AND FIRST RESPONDERS 

These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a First Responder organization that doesn’t have some kind of drone program. RPAS have been particularly helpful in Search and Rescue operations, including night searches using thermal sensors. Many people have been rescued quickly and safely as a result. The use of drones has also helped keep First Responders out of harm’s way. For example, it’s much safer to locate a person lost on a frozen lake with a drone and then dispatch a rescue team to precise coordinates rather than having that crew roaming around on potentially hazardous conditions.

They’re also a tremendous tool for firefighting operations. Not only do they supply immediate situational awareness that can be securely shared with decision makers down the line, but thermal sensors can also detect hot spots invisible to the naked eye. Police departments and even paramedics routinely use drones in operations. (In one example from Renfrew County, a drone was put up immediately following a tornado for damage assessment and to search for any injured people.) So drones are here to stay.

 

A REVOLUTION 

It’s not an exaggeration to say that drones have truly revolutionised the work carried out by these organizations. But it’s easy to forget that this has been a recent development.

DJI released its original Phantom drone back in 2013. At the time, it didn’t come with a camera and you had to attach a GoPro. Smart tinkerers figured out how to modify those GoPros so that the pilot could stream real-time video. Another company, Draganfly, was producing basic drones even earlier and selling them to law enforcement and other First Responders.

But drones weren’t widely known, and many of the use-cases now so common had not even yet been conceived.

A few early adopters began purchasing drones for First Responder work. It was largely trial and error, as people experimented with using drones for SAR, strategic monitoring of fires, photographing accident scenes – and more. Results started to be shared by word of mouth and at conferences. Drones were gaining traction.

Yet it wasn’t so easy to just pop up a drone in those early days. Transport Canada at the time was rightly cautious about these new devices, and pretty much any flight back then required a Special Flight Operations Certificate, even if you were flying within line of sight. Unless you managed to get a blanket SFOC, it was against the regulations to simply put a drone without that long SFOC process.

 

AN EVOLUTION

As the technology improved and the utility and safety was recognised, things began to shift. More and more First Responders started adding drones to their tool kit. And Transport Canada eventually modified (and continues to modify) its regulations to safely integrate drone operations into the national air space.

If that sounds like progress, it was. But still, there was a hitch. Organizations were creating their own ad-hoc drone operations. They were doing their best, but there was really no Best Practices guide to help inform First Responders on how to create an effective program. Yes, there was piecemeal information if you wanted to endlessly surf the internet, but there wasn’t a single repository of knowledge that could be used as a guide. What qualifications are required? What type of drone is best for the job? What scheduled maintenance is necessary and why?

And that’s how the idea for the Blue Book series came about.

Below: One of the early DJI Phantoms, with an integrated camera and gimbal system.

Canada Drone Companies

THE BLUE BOOKS

The first Blue Book was released in November of 2022 and is available for members of First Responder, Search and Rescue and Fire Departments here. Kate Klassen worked extensively with the various interested parties to ensure that the book was specifically tailored to the needs of these organizations. It quickly became the reference guide for those implementing or improving their drone operations.

“I think it prevents a lot of trial and error so that folks don’t have to learn all the lessons the hard way,” explains Klassen.

“A lot of fire departments are poorly funded, and I’m sure that goes for SAR as well. So you want to be smart with the dollars that you put towards tools like this. The guide supports making sure you’re not wasting money on poor aircraft decisions or poor personnel decisions.”

That initial Blue Book is entitled “Remotely Piloted Aircraft Program Development Guide, First Edition.” It’s a comprehensive blueprint for starting an operation from scratch, or improving an existing operation. Sections in the book include:

  • Training and certification regulations and resources
  • Airspace operations
  • Aircraft budget considerations, maintenance, payload and staffing
  • First Responder deployment

There’s much more, but you get the idea. And while it’s called the Blue Book, it’s really the gold standard of guides for First Responder operations.

 

BLUE BOOK II

The newest edition was launched last week, with Kate Klassen conducting a webinar to go over the highlights. This edition is geared toward routine, low-risk Beyond Visual Line of Sight flight. Obviously, particularly in Search and Rescue operations, being able to dispatch a drone over long distances can be critical in locating missing parties. And while Transport Canada does offer some leeway for First Responders in this regard, BVLOS is going to become more routine.

Transport Canada plans to deploy new BVLOS regulations. While SFOCs were previously required, the new rules (anticipated in 2025) will permit BVLOS flights in lower risk scenarios. Specifically, within uncontrolled airspace and outside of populated areas.

But even lower risk BVLOS is higher risk than Visual Line of Sight flights. And so Blue Book II takes a deep dive into the coming regulations. These regs include a new type of RPAS certificate required for low-risk BVLOS operations called a Level One Complex Certificate. Obtaining this certificate will require obtaining additional ground school education, as well as a more complex in-person Flight Review. Operators will have to maintain specific skillsets and recency in order to take on these BVLOS flights.

Among the contents of Blue Book II:

  • Defining BVLOS
  • Policy developments, procedures and checklists
  • Detect and Avoid, Mission Planning, Human Factors

There’s also an entire section on Specific Operational Risk Assessment (SORA), including Ground Risk Class Assessment (GRC), Air Risk Class Assessment (ARC), Tactical Mitigation Performance Requirements (TMPR) and Specific Assurance and Integrity Level (SAIL).

“This manual is a guide for preparing your RPAS program in fire or search and rescue organizations for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations,” states its introduction, co-written by CAFC President Chief Ken McMullen, SARVAC President Janelle Coultes and CASARA President Dale Krisch.

“The book is designed to be relevant to both fire departments and search and rescue (SAR) organizations, all hazard, emergency operations or fire suppression. Whether your fire department or SAR organization is expanding their use of RPAS into beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations or whether it is advanced in the domain, we hope will find useful information in this manual.”

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank every member of the committee that worked on this manual and its predecessor Blue Book I which addresses the development of an RPAS program. We would also like to thank Kate Klassen at InDro Robotics who managed the process and held the pen to get the committee to their overall goal. This manual is in great part due to her substantive and process expertise.”

Although the Blue Books are specifically intended for those who are members of Search and Rescue organisations and Fire Departments, some exceptions are made for those in related First Responder fields. You can request a copy of the Blue Books at the bottom of the page here.

Below: A paramedic deploys a drone

Paramedics Use Drones

INDRO’S TAKE 

Kate Klassen has been a tremendous asset to the Canadian drone space for a decade. Her regulatory expertise and willingness to assist in shaping sound practices and policies are widely known. Her online RPAS courses have trained more than 10,000 drone pilots in Canada, and her online portal FLYY continues to help new pilots obtain their Basic and Advanced RPAS Certificates (including Flight Reviews). Kate has served as the co-chair of Transport Canada’s Drone Advisory Committee (CanaDAC), is on the board of the Aerial Evolution Association of Canada, and has previously served on the board of COPA – the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association.

“These guides were pretty labour-intensive, but I’m pleased to have worked closely with these various associations and individuals to pull together what we believe to be a Best Practices manual that truly reflects the needs of these specific organizations and use-cases,” says Klassen.

“We are also always willing to work with any company that has a drone program to produce a guide tailored specifically for their operations, ensuring consistency and safety across all operations. We are also building out specific Micro-Credential courses in areas like thermal/hyperspectral imaging, surveying, precision agriculture and more. These are highly-focused, hands-on courses that quickly bring operators up to speed on new and complex skill sets.”

In addition, InDro Robotics manages the Drone and Advanced Robot Training and Testing (DARTT) facility at Area X.O in Ottawa, which includes both classroom space and a netted drone enclosure.

If you’re interested in discussing your RPAS program needs, whether for training or a company/industry-specific manual, you can get in touch with Kate right here.

Cypher Robotics announces Captis – a new solution for industrial scanning

Cypher Robotics announces Captis – a new solution for industrial scanning

By Scott Simmie

 

Perhaps you’ve already seen the news.

A new Canadian tech company, Cypher Robotics, has unveiled a groundbreaking solution for inventory cycle counting and precision scanning at the industrial level. The company made its announcement at MODEX2024, one of the premiere global conferences for the supply chain ecosystem. The company also announced key partnerships with AI-driven fulfilment experts GreyOrange and global telecommunications innovator Ericsson. In addition, Cypher revealed it has partnered with an as-yet unnamed Canadian retail giant with more than 300 locations.

The system integrates an autonomous ground robot with tethered drone technology, allowing for scanning missions lasting some five hours in duration between charging. Data is uploaded in realtime to existing Warehouse Management System (WMS), WCS (Warehouse Control System) and WES (Warehouse Execution System) software. What’s more, the system can navigate even tight aisles autonomously without any infrastructure changes.

So why is InDro keen on sharing this news? We’ll get to that.

First, have a look at how it works:

THE INDRO CONNECTION

 

If you guessed InDro has a strong connection with Cypher Robotics, you were correct.

InDro Robotics has an incubator agreement with Cypher, and helped to develop this product. InDro is also an investor in the company.

“This is the future of warehouse robotics,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece, who has founded or co-founded multiple successful companies in the robotics, drone and R&D spaces.

“It completely eliminates the dull and repetitive task of scanning by hand, freeing up employees to do more satisfying work. It also frees up or eliminates the need for equipment like modified forklifts that have been previously required for the task.”

Reece was quoted in a news release launching Cypher Robotics and its flagship solution, which is called Captis.

Here’s a look at the system. The tethered drone ascends vertically from the Captis base, scanning product as the ground robot moves seamlessly down aisles as narrow as five feet (1.524 metres).

Below: The Captis system integrates a Robot Operating System (ROS) based drone with an autonomous ground robot

 

Cypher Robotics Captis

THE NEWS

 

More detailed information about Cypher Robotics and Captis was revealed in the following news release:

(ATLANTA): Cypher Robotics today unveiled a new standard for efficient and accurate cycle counting scanning for industry at MODEX2024 – one of the sector’s leading annual global conferences. The company also revealed partnerships with AI-driven automation leaders GreyOrange and technology company Ericsson, plus a leading Canadian retailer.

Incubated by Canada’s InDro Robotics, Cypher calls its solution ‘The Future of Warehouse Robotics’, and here’s why: It combines both aerial and ground robotics technology into a single, integrated package.

That solution is called Captis – an autonomous ground vehicle that can find its way around warehouses all on its own. It won’t bump into people or objects, and requires no infrastructure changes. When it’s time for cycle counting, it uses drone technology attached to the ground robot with a tether – used to power the drone and for realtime data transfer. The drone ascends vertically and begins scanning products (it’s code-agnostic) as the Captis base navigates its way down even-narrow corridors.

Based in Ottawa, Cypher Robotics has a specialised engineering team and state-of-the-art fabrication. Comprehensive, real-world testing has been carried out over several months in partnership with a major Canadian retailer that has more than 300 locations across the country.

The system can capture data with 99.9 per cent accuracy autonomously for up to five hours per mission. That data is automatically integrated with existing Warehouse Management System (WMS), WCS (Warehouse Control System) and WES (Warehouse Execution System) software. Captis eliminates the costs associated with manual cycle counts, improves inventory accuracy, and ensures seamless timeline replenishment while avoiding both over- and under-stocking items.

What’s more, Captis can simultaneously carry out highly detailed precision scans of infrastructure (more on this in the future).

Sound technologically complex? It is. But it’s also a breeze to operate. 

“Captis is completely a hands-off product,” says Philip Reece, who has founded or co-founded multiple successful companies in the robotics, drone and R&D spaces. Those include InDro Robotics, the Canadian leader in ground and aerial robotics R&D, which has also invested in Cypher Robotics.

“When we say this is ‘the future of warehouse robotics’, we mean it. It completely eliminates the dull and repetitive task of scanning by hand, freeing up employees to do more satisfying work. It also frees up or eliminates the need for equipment like modified forklifts that have been previously required for the task.”

Cypher has partnered with warehouse fulfilment experts GreyOrange and global telco innovator Ericsson.

“The Captis autonomous cycle counting solution is powered by GreyOrange’s GreyMatter, our fulfillment orchestration platform,” says Akash Gupta, Co-Founder and CEO, GreyOrange. “We are excited that Cypher Robotics has joined GreyOrange’s Certified RangerTM Network (CRN) ecosystem. Cypher’s Captis solution is a great option for companies new to automation and robotics to begin leveraging such tech since only one bot is needed per warehouse on average.”

Manish Tiwari, Head of Private Cellular Networks, Ericsson Business Area Enterprise Wireless Solution says: “Captis is an innovative solution that listens to the industry’s needs and efficiently answers them. Being connected to Ericsson Private 5G allows Captis to traverse warehouses while maintaining consistent connectivity which ensures the safety of employees and devices. The low latency of the connection allows for immediate validation of data and the ability to re-capture it to maintain accuracy. The solution ensures that the organization’s data is protected throughout the process.  Ericsson is looking forward to continued collaboration and innovation with Cypher that will help our customers’ digitalization efforts.”

Below: Captis is built for scanning and is code-agnostic. Barcodes, QR codes and more are scanned autonomously and the data instantly integrated with existing warehouse management software

Cypher Robotics Captis

INDRO’S TAKE

 

We are obviously excited about this announcement. The supply chain is a huge sector, and the automation of the supply chain is growing rapidly. Cypher Robotics believes this is the first system manufactured in North America to integrate aerial and ground robotics in a single solution.

“It’s been a very satisfying process to see Cypher Robotics develop Captis with incubation assistance from us,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece.

“It was already a technologically challenging build to create a ground robot that can navigate tight spaces autonomously in an unfamiliar setting. Combining that with drone technology adds a whole other level of complexity. We’re pleased that InDro was able to assist with incubation and look forward to seeing where Captis goes.”

In addition to cycle counting, the Captis system also has Precision Scanning capabilities. It can provide updated 2D and 3D digital twins as it carries out its other work, empowering operations with a digital environment for scenario planning. It’s also capable of RFID scanning.

More on these other significant features…to come.

InDro Robotics takes in NRF’s “Big Show”

InDro Robotics takes in NRF’s “Big Show”

By Scott Simmie

 

InDro Robotics just took in NRF 2024 in New York. And it was, as the National Retail Federation promised, “Retail’s Big Show.”

Many of the world’s largest retailers (along with plenty of smaller ones) were at the event, which is one of the biggest and most important conferences for the retail sector on the planet.

And while many of us might think of retail and its supply chain as consisting of storefronts, warehouses, manufacturing and the transport of goods, there’s a tremendous amount of technology going on behind the scenes. The use of that technology – including various forms of automation and robotics – is growing. That’s why we attended.

“I was here on behalf of InDro to identify in the retail space where the gaps are, and where hardware fits into that – how physical robots can complement some of the solutions that are offered,” explains Stacey Connors, Head of Strategic Innovations (and the happy person pictured above).

Here’s a quick overview of the event:

THE BIG SHOW

 

It really is a big show. Some 6,000 retailers from around the world take part, with more than 1,000 companies exhibiting. About 35,000 people attended the event, which this year had a heavy focus on technologies that can offer new efficiencies through every step of the retail process: Manufacturing, supply chain management, inventory control – you name it.

Most retailers, says Connors, rely heavily on software throughout that process. Highly automated systems like Amazon distribution centres are known as “dark warehouses” – because you could simply turn the lights off and most of the processes would keep on running.

For an example of just how automated some systems are, check out the video below. This system was built more than five years ago:

 

THAT’S THE EXCEPTION

 

Pretty impressive system, right? But that’s the exception.

“The reality – and what a lot of publications like McKinsey will justify – is that 80+ per cent of the warehouses are ‘brown fields’ where there’s limited automation at all,” says Connors.

Making that transition toward more automation isn’t always a snap.

“You’re asking an existing environment to upgrade everything, change all the infrastructure. Is the width of the aisles suitable for multiple robots? Is the lighting adequate for scanning barcodes or QR codes? Is the software built to integrate with different autonomous devices?”

There are companies that are specializing, at least on the software side, in helping with that transition. SVT Robotics, for example, makes software (SoftBot) for the integration of autonomous machines with existing inventory management/supply chain software. Depending on warehouse architecture, robots can sometimes be added with minimal infrastructure changes.

And then there are manufacturers and retailers building new “green field” warehouses – where they design a new facility from the ground up that takes existing robotics technologies into account.

“When you’re building a whole new warehouse, all of these automations are very viable,” says Connors.

 

INDRO AND INVENTORY

 

This isn’t the first piece of the puzzle that Connors has been examining in the retail supply chain world. She’s been immersed in this sector for much of the past year, taking in major conferences like Promat, the world’s largest gathering focussed on supply chain automation. She attended Boston’s Robotics Summit & Expo as well as IROS in Detroit. Synergically, they help form a Big Picture. Connors says the NRF retail show filled in an important gap.

“This is the other piece – how it impacts the front end, the end sale, and revenue generation. So it was a different lens to look at how robotics impacts the whole chain.”

But why so much interest in this?

We’ll have much more to say on this soon. But InDro has been hard at work on a new solution we believe will offer huge efficiencies for companies with large warehouses – and even for front-end retail operations. It is a radically new kind of solution, and we can’t wait to share it.

What we can tell you is that InDro is excited to have forged a partnership with Scanbot – a leader in barcode scanning and data capture. Scanbot’s SDK (Software Development Kit) will play an important role in our new product, and we’re pleased to be on board with them.

The success of our new venture hinges on seamless integration with existing software and operating systems,” says Connors.

“Scanbot is the clear leader in this field, and offers precisely the SDK for the job. We’re excited to be working with them.”

Below: Stacey Connors and our new Scanbot partners during the NRF show

 

 

Stacey and Scanbot

INDRO’S TAKE

 

As you know by now, InDro is an R&D company. Frequently, clients come to us seeking solutions that don’t yet exist. And often, we identify problems in need of solutions. In both cases, we invent/develop new products. We are particularly inclined to develop and refine new products when we see a significant void in the marketplace.

“Inventory management is a huge untapped market,” says Stacey Connors. “Robotics and automation can offer massive efficiencies, particularly if they can be integrated into existing warehouses and showrooms without significant infrastructure changes.

“This is an area where we have been deeply focused on a solution – one we look forward to unveiling in the very near future. Trust me, there’s nothing like it out there.”

Stay tuned.

InDro Robotics hits multiple milestones in 2023

InDro Robotics hits multiple milestones in 2023

By Scott Simmie

 

Happy New Year!

We hope you’ve enjoyed the holiday season and that 2024 will be a good year for you.

While looking ahead, we at InDro Robotics always take this opportunity to also look back; to reflect on the year that was. In particular, we like to focus on what we accomplished. And 2023, for multiple reasons, was a very big year for us.

We designed and built sophisticated devices for some of the biggest technology companies in the world. (We really wish we could share that news, but under NDA we cannot. We can tell you that our last shipment, which took place in December, required two large transport trucks.)

And while that was certainly a highlight, there were many, many others. Let’s kick off our Year in Review with a device we’re very proud of, the InDro Backpack.

InDro Backpack

INDRO BACKPACK

 

Designed for Unitree quadrupeds (InDro is a North American distributor), the Backpack mounts onto the Unitree GO1 EDU, GO2, B1 and B2 robots. And it vastly expands their capabilities. 

First off, the Backpack enables data-dense teleoperations over 5G with virtually zero lag. Using InDro’s dashboard and intuitive control system, you can remotely operate the Unitree robots from anywhere there’s a cellular connection at both ends.

But that’s not all. The Backpack contains the Robot Operating System (ROS) software libraries, along with multiple USB slots. This makes customising these robots with additional sensors a breeze, saving a lot of engineering time. The backpack also contains a pinhole camera, offering the operator a First Person View of operations. The customisable dashboard allows the user to see data flowing in from all sensors and overall system health.

This device, inspired by InDro Commander (which does the same thing for wheeled and tracked platforms), is 100 per cent an InDro innovation from the ground up. Take a look:

InDro BackPack

YOW DRONE DETECTION

 

You may be familiar with the Ottawa International Airport’s Drone Detection Pilot Project. InDro Robotics is the core technology provider of the system, which monitors drone traffic not only immediately surrounding YOW, but from as far as 40 kilometres away.

In 2023, in addition to its regular monitoring, the system was involved with two high-profile events. First, the system detected someone flying a drone right at the airport, and in the vicinity of both a helicopter and an active runway. (This happened in December of 2022, but we could not publicly report on it until Transport Canada completed its investigation.)

The system located not only the drone (including its make and model), but the pilot as well. Police were dispatched, and Transport Canada ultimately imposed fines totalling $3021 for multiple violations of the CARs regulations. You can read our coverage here, as well as this take from Don Drones On.

The second significant event involved the visit to Canada by US President Joe Biden. Advance teams from the Secret Service and Air Force One visited YOW prior to the trip – and one of the first questions they had was whether YOW had a drone detection system in place. The system was carefully monitored during the arrival and departure of Air Force One. Thankfully, there were no incursions. Our story was picked up by sUAS News – and the CBC also covered the story:

FAA AND INDRO

 

Early this year, InDro Robotics received what we believe to be a first for a Canadian company: A US Federal Aviation Administration waiver permitting BVLOS flights for solar farm inspections in the United States.

Like our ground robots, our aerial robots are equipped for 5G teleoperation, so distance is no barrier. InDro ships the drone to the location, instructs the recipient on how to power on and visually observe – and we carry out the flight. Since receiving this waiver, we have carried out highly successful solar farm inspections in the US.

Here’s a look at how the system works.

MARATHON DRONE FLIGHTS

 

This headline has two meanings. The first is that we were flying sub-250 gram drones continuously for several hours in a relay-like fashion. When the batteries on one drone started to drain, a second was put in the air. So it was kind of a marathon in terms of continuous drone operation.

But the bigger meaning relates to the annual Montreal Marathon. InDro Robotics was called in to take part in a research trial. It was known from previous marathons that there were specific locations where runners tended to encounter difficulties and even collapse. But with no surveillance from above, it took time both to identify a runner in distress and also pinpoint their precise location.

The drones we put in the air provided an uninterrupted live feed to a tent where they were continuously watched on large-screen monitors. Sure enough, the live video did help detect and locate runners who needed assistance. You can find our story here. It was also picked up by COPA – the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association. Their coverage is here.

Below: Our crew kept sub-250 gram drones in the air for hours at the Montreal Marathon.

BIG CLIENT, COOL ROBOT

 

A major international company (a household name, truly), asked us to build a robot for them. Specifically, a research robot they could deploy in crowds of people. Engineering lead Arron Griffiths explains:

“The client wants to use Vision SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping) to essentially detect humans and pathways through chaotic environments,” he says.

“Think malls, shopping centres…where humans are mingling to navigate around. And there’s no really defined path, the robot must organically move around people. Yes, you’d have an overall predetermined path with a desired destination, but once the chaos of humans comes in the robot would safely meander its way through crowds.”

The client was so pleased with the result they agreed to allow us to show the finished product. You’ll note the height – which was necessary so that sensors could be placed at roughly eye-level of the humans it avoids. You can find more technical details about the project here.

This is a perfect example of one of InDro’s key functions: A client comes to us with an idea for a product that has not yet been created. In deep consultation – and with plenty of updates along the way – InDro designs, builds, tests and ultimately delivers the finished product.

Below: The robot navigates crowds along a boardwalk

Robotic Innovations

DARTT OPENS!

 

June saw the opening of the new Drone and Advanced Robot Training and Testing centre, or DARTT, at Area X.O in Ottawa. The state-of-the-art facility was funded by the Government of Canada through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and in-kind industry contributions from InDro Robotics.

DARTT is the first facility of its kind in Canada, built from the ground up for the testing of ground robots (wheeled, tracked, quadrupeds and bipeds) and drones. The robot testing area consists of multiple sets of obstacles build to specific criteria set out by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Robots can be tested on various uneven surfaces, through varying aggregates (sand, gravel, etc.) and through water. There’s even an incline ramp that can be adjusted to test the ability of robots to climb.

InDro operates the facility, helping to test the limits of robots – and their operators. DARTT also contains a large netted enclosure for testing new drone technologies that might otherwise require a Special Flight Operations Certificate from Transport Canada. (Plus, the top of that large enclosure can serve as a safety net when testing drone parachutes.)

InDro offers flight reviews and advanced and specialised drone and robot training at the site. We are also planning to launch a series of Micro-Credential courses in 2024, allowing for short-duration, intensive training in specific drone technology skills.

You’ll find a more thorough story about DARTT here, as well as a video below.

INDRO TAPPED FOR SPECIALIZED DRONE MISSIONS

 

It’s not uncommon for InDro to be approached to participate in research trials involving drones (the Montreal Marathon is but one example), but also in emergency situations. This year saw both.

When wildfires threatened many regions in British Columbia, the City of Kelowna contacted InDro. Might we be able to assist in mapping some of the damage? And could we use thermal sensors to detect hotspots that might be smouldering beneath a landfill?

We jumped into action quickly, selecting our partners at Spexi Geospatial to carry out the flights using their special software. That system allows the pilot to select an hexagonal area of interest (a “Spexigon”), and the drone will take off and carry out the mission autonomously. It will ensure that photos are taken at the correct intervals and a consistent altitude so the back-end stitching goes seamlessly. Plus, a pilot can fly multiple Spexigons in a single mission, allowing all of that data to produce imagery at scale. Resolution is very high, at 3 cm/pixel.

During one 2023 mission, “over 10,000 acres of imagery was captured in three days,” says Spexi COO Alec Wilson.

“We’ve made it super simple to get images in and out at scale… And we’re super-excited to be able to start building bigger and better platforms for the drone industry.”

InDro has invested in Spexi Geospatial, as we can see the value of automated image capture at scale. Already, Spexigon has carried out trials where it has captured two entire BC cities in a matter of days, with much bigger projects on the horizon.

You can read more about our work in Kelowna here, and more about Spexi here.

Below: Spexi COO Alec Wilson speaking in Ottawa at the Aerial Evolution Association of Canada’s annual conference.

Alec Wilson Spexi

URBAN WIND TUNNELS

 

InDro has previously teamed up with the National Research Council of Canada on research projects. For example, we’ve pushed several drones to their limits in the NRC’s wind tunnel in Ottawa to compare the ability of drones to withstand high winds when compared with the manufacturer’s specifications.

This year, the NRC asked if we could help with an even more challenging project: Measuring urban wind tunnels.

The NRC is interested in how drones react in urban settings, where windspeeds can be greatly influenced by architecture. Tall buildings in close proximity can turn a stiff breeze into something approaching a gale, along with producing wind shear, strong vortices and other invisible threats to drone flight.

But just because you can’t see these unusual air patterns doesn’t mean you can’t measure them. In conjunction with the NRC, we outfitted an InDro drone with two small, highly sensitive anemometers that measure windspeed. They were mounted on a wishbone-like device, allowing the sensors to be clear of prop-wash for more accurate measurement. One anemometer was mounted vertically, while the other was angled horizontally. This allows researchers to measure the precise angle of the wind, including localised updrafts and other anomalies.

Chief Pilot Eric Saczuk was the Pilot-in-Command on these challenging operations, which took place over multiple days in Montreal. The data will not only help researchers understand and predict the impact of urban wind tunnels, but may also result in useful guidelines for companies flying drones in urban environments.

 (We also carried out some research flights in Vancouver Harbour, flying through a specific corridor near congested airspace, all while measuring the quality of 5G signals throughout the flight.)

You can read about the NRC wind tunnel research in greater detail here. The image below shows the drone with both anemometers attached.

NRC Wind Tunnel Montreal Eric

INDRO “FORGES” AHEAD

 

One of the major highlights of the year involves InDro Robotics now offering a plethora of new fabrication and design services. In a strategic partnership with Invest Ottawa, what was known as the Bayview Yards Prototyping Lab is now called InDro Forge and under the management of InDro Robotics.

The facility is equipped with a wide array of additive and subtractive manufacturing capabilities, including:

  • CNC machining
  • Silicone and urethane casting
  • Multi-element 3D printing (including metal)
  • Electronics and Printed Circuit Board fabrication and analysis

There’s even a water jet table capable of cutting through several inches of steel.

The facility offers services ranging from one-off prototypes to design and full product development. If you can dream it; InDro Forge can build it.

Some of our other clients come to us where they have an early prototype that they’ve cobbled together. It tells them that their idea is possible but it’s not a product yet,” says InDro Forge lead Joel Koscielski. “So we’ll help them turn that into a more refined version of itself. We might do one of those, we might do five – even 25.”

Projects can be big – or small.

“Sometimes it’s just that extra bit of capacity – they themselves have never had to make a sheet metal box that looks good,” adds Koscielski.

In addition to serving clients in need of prototypes, Minimum Viable Products and limited production runs, InDro also now has the ability to fabricate in virtually any material for our own projects – which will shorten timelines.

Below: A powerful water jet table at InDro Forge. It uses high-pressure water mixed with an exceedingly fine aggregate to cut through pretty much anything with precision

Advanced Manufacturing

STREET SMART ROBOT

 

Another of our 2023 milestones was the design and fabrication of what we call the Street Smart Robot. Its purpose is to ensure safe winter cycling.

Canadian cyclists are a hardy bunch, and many of them don’t let the winter season stop them from utilizing bike lanes. But with winter comes hazards – ice, potholes, debris – that can pose a threat to a safe cycling experience. The Street Smart Robot (SSR) has been built to drive through bike lanes autonomously – while scanning for the above hazards and more. Once it detects an anomaly, City of Ottawa (where it’s being tested) maintenance crews will be notified.

“The idea behind the robot is we want to prolong the use of bike lanes in Ottawa, but also ensure the safety of bike lanes in Ottawa,” explains Indro Robotics Account Executive Luke Corbeth.

“There’s really two parts to this: The first is a machine vision element to see if conditions are good enough for biking – no ice, not too many leaves, etc. On the safety side, the Street Smart Robot is more concerned with detecting things like potholes and cracks. And the idea is if you’re able to identify those things, the right resources can be deployed faster and more efficiently to solve the problem in a timely manner.”

 

PARTNERSHIP

 

The SSR came about thanks to a research and development fund called the Wintertech Development Program. Its purpose is to support “Ontario small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and their partners to validate, test, prototype, and demonstrate new products and technologies designed to meet the unique demands of winter weather conditions.” InDro matched the funds via the work it carried out.

Wintertech is run by OVIN, the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network. That’s a province of Ontario initiative which “capitalizes on the economic potential of advanced automotive technologies and smart mobility solutions such as connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), and electric and low-carbon vehicle technologies, while enabling the province’s transportation and infrastructure networks to plan for and adapt to this evolution.”

There’s a *lot* of technology packed into the SSR, including sensors and compute power to ensure both obstacle avoidance and AI/Machine Vision recognition of potential threats. Technology onboard includes:

  • Front and rear-facing depth cameras that perceive in 3D
  • Two 2D LiDAR units for obstacle avoidance and safety
  • Two 3D LiDAR sensors for Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM)
  • GPS and Inertial Measurement Unit
  • Range finder to detect the height and position of hazards like tree branches on the path

There’s a lot more to this machine, and you can find all the details here. InDro will be testing the IP67 robot in early 2024, once there’s plenty of snow and ice in Ottawa.

Below: A brief video highlights the Street Smart Robot, unveiled at TCXpo in September.

TCXpo

 

September brought the second annual TCXpo event to Area X.O. It’s Canada’s premiere showcase of Smart Mobility, with leading technology companies from across the country demonstrating their products. This year saw more than 75 firms take part with active demos, static displays, and plenty of learning sessions.

The event was sponsored by Transport Canada (that’s the “TC” in “TCXpo”), along with Invest Ottawa and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED).

InDro was kept busy with running demos of the new DARTT facility, putting ground robots through demanding obstacle courses and flying drones inside the netted enclosures. There were plenty of other cool demonstrations and displays, ranging from a self-driving tractor through to a remotely operated hang-glider intended for heavy cargo deliveries.

As Michael Tremblay, who was then President and CEO of Invest Ottawa, Area X.O and Bayview Yards, put it: “We’ve got incredible capability right across the country.”

It’s a great event, and one that truly highlights that the era of Smart Mobility is firmly en route. Kudos to the organizers for putting on such a great show.

Below: A few images from the 2023 TCXpo, including the InDro Robotics Ottawa team behind some of our many robots. That’s followed by a video highlighting the event.

 

WAIT, THERE’S MORE

 

There’s actually a *lot* more, but we know you’ve got other things to do in 2024. So just a final few highlights:

 

  • InDro forged a new partnership (and product) in conjunction with Tallysman on a super-accurate GNSS solution for ground robots
  • We refined our popular InDro Commander, an InDro innovation that enables remote teleoperation and the rapid integration of sensors. A smaller Commander is en route soon!
  • We welcomed – and are modifying – new robots from Unitree and AgileX (InDro distributes products from both companies)
  • We have a new Robot Operating System (ROS) drone (more to come on that soon)
  • We’ve been working hard on a new automated inventory management system, designed to simplify warehouse supply chain management

 

INDRO ON THE ROAD

 

Finally, InDro attended a number of major conferences and exhibitions throughout the year. We displayed and demonstrated our products at many of them, and forged partnerships at others. Among the many events we took part in:

There were more, of course. But these were the highlights.

Below: Unitree’s new “Digit” biped robot, at IROS in Detroit

Unitree's new Digit biped

INDRO’S TAKE

 

Every year at InDro Robotics is busy, with many milestones reached. But 2023 was a little bit different. There were more projects, more milestones, new partnerships – and more clients. The company continued to scale, with the hiring of many more engineers and supply chain/admin staff.

The addition of InDro Forge is a highly significant addition to our portfolio, offering rapid prototyping and custom fabrication for clients, as well as new onsite capabilities for our own projects. And, because this post focussed exclusively on InDro Robotics, we didn’t even get into the amazing things happening at sister companies Aerometrix (which focuses on gas detection) and Bravo Zulu Secure, our drone detection/mitigation operation. Look forward to hearing more about those companies in 2024.

“2023 was an exceptional year at InDro. The company continued to scale, and our engineering team yet again outdid itself with new products, new milestones – and continued commitment to hard work and innovation,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece.

“Our management and sales teams also pushed the envelope, bringing in major ongoing projects that we look forward to revealing in 2024. And our marketing and content leads made great inroads in getting out the word about what InDro’s been doing, along with our continued growth trajectory. I’m grateful to all of our staff, our clients, and our many partners – with a special thanks to Area X.O, Invest Ottawa, and YOW. Here’s to 2024!”

On behalf of everyone at InDro Robotics, we wish you a Happy, healthy, and productive New Year.

As always, if you’d like to get in touch feel free to contact us here.