2022 InDro Highlights

2022 InDro Highlights

Wow. Another year has passed.

And for InDro Robotics, it was a year marked by new products, new deployments, and multiple milestones.

We did a deep dive on the year with our Year in Review story, which you can find here. But we realise some people might prefer a condensed version. So here we go, starting with the image above.

That’s Sentinel, our rugged teleoperated robot for remote inspections. We launched that product at the very beginning of 2022. It’s been designed for remote inspections, carried out over 4G and 5G networks. We customise Sentinel’s sensors based on client needs, but the standard model comes with a 30x optical Pan-Tilt-Zoom camera, thermal sensor, and a high-res wide-angle camera that gives the operator a clear view of surroundings.

Operations are a snap, using an Xbox controller plugged into a laptop with a comprehensive dashboard. Even dense data can be streamed and downloaded in real-time over 5G. In fact, we’ve proven Sentinel’s minimal-latency capabilities from more than 4,000 kilometres away. (That took place from Bellevue, Washington State, where we were invited to demo our system by T-Mobile.)

It didn’t take long for word to get around. A couple of months after Sentinel’s launch, we were invited to put it through its paces at the Electric Power Research Institute, or EPRI. Check out this next image – it’s a frame grab from the Sentinel dashboard, and was captured during a mission at an EPRI testbed electrical substation in Lenox, Massachussetts.

Automated Robot Control

There’s a lot we could tell you about Sentinel but we’re trying to keep this tight. If you’d like more in-depth details you can read this story, or reach out to superstar Account Executive Luke Corbeth here

InDro Commander

INDRO COMMANDER

A significant part of what gives Sentinel its various superpowers is an innovation we call InDro Commander. It’s a bolt-on box that contains a camera, EDGE computer, a 4G- and 5G-compatible modem and the ROS1 and ROS2 software libraries. That means it’s a snap for clients to add any additional sensors they’d like without the hassle of coding. 

You can operate any InDro Commander-enabled platform using an Xbox controller over a highly intuitive dashboard on your desktop or laptop. FYI, that box you see just above the InDro Logo (and just below the camera) in the image below? That’s InDro Commander.

DRONES

Though InDro has a stellar reputation for ground robotics, the company was founded on the Unmanned Aerial System side of things. So we’ve been busy in that arena, as well.

The most significant development of the year is a software and hardware package we call InDro Pilot. In a nutshell, it’s a bolt-on module that’s similar to Commander. It enables remote BVLOS operations over 4G or 5G, dense data throughput, simplified sensor integration – plus the ability to broadcast to nearby traditional crewed aircraft that drone operations are taking place in the vicinity. 

That hexagonal box in the image is Version 1.0 of the hardware side. We’ve since created a much smaller and lighter version, capable of transforming any Enterprise drone using the Pixhawk flight controller into a low-latency, BVLOS super-RPAS.

InDro Pilot

GROUND (BREAKING) DELIVERIES

In 2022, InDro teamed up with London Drugs to test out ground deliveries via our ROLL-E robot. 

There were two separate trials. The first, in Victoria, involved ROLL-E taking goods ordered online to a parking lot for touchless, curbside delivery. The second, in Surrey BC, involved the second generation of ROLL-E delivering goods from a London Drugs outlet to a consumer’s home. ROLL-E features 4G and 5G teleoperation, and is equipped with a total of six cameras (including two depth-perception cameras), giving the operator tremendous spatial awareness.

That’s ROLL-E 2.0, in the image below. Its secure cargo bay – which unlocks when the robot reaches its destination – can carry up to 50 kilograms.

Automated Delivery

GOOD DOG

Also in 2022, InDro Robotics became a North American distributor for the Unitree line of quadruped robots. These rugged, agile robots are well-suited to a variety of tasks, including remote inspection. In the video below, Luke Corbeth puts the entry-level GO 1 through its paces.

InDro backpack

Remember InDro Commander, the box that enables remote teleoperations and easy sensor integration? We figured a module like that could really expand the capabilities of the Unitree quadrupeds. 

And so – you guessed it – we built it. We call this device InDro Backpack, and you can see it on the robot below.

InDro Backpack

meet limo

InDro Robotics is also a North American distributor of the excellent AgileX robot line. This past year saw the introduction of a very cool machine for education and R&D called LIMO. It comes with an impressive number of features straight out of the box, including:

  • An NVIDIA Jetson Nano, capable of remote teleoperation over 4G
  • An EAI X2L LiDAR unit
  • Stereo camera
  • Four steering modes (tracked, Ackerman, four-wheel differential, and omni-directional)

It’s a powerful, SLAM-capable machine. Best of all? It’s really affordable.

InDro Robotics Limo

montreal marathon

Three InDro employees took part in the Montreal Marathon – but they were largely standing still.

In fact, they were operating sub-250 gram drones as part of a medical research pilot project. The drones – two were constantly in the air throughout the run – were positioned at a point near the end of the course where runners sometimes encounter medical distress. Live feeds from the drones were monitored in a tent by researchers for two reasons: To see if the aerial view could help them quickly identify someone needing help, and to help pinpoint their location so assistance could be rapidly dispatched.

The results? The drone feeds helped quickly identify and locate two runners in need of help

“The view from above when monitoring moving crowds is just incomparable,” says Dr. Valérie Homier, an Emergency Physician at McGill University Health Centre and the lead researcher on the project. 

Below: InDro pilots Kaiwen Xu, Ella Hayashi and Liam Dwyer.

InDro Robotics Team

TCXpo

One of the highlights of the year was the TCXpo event at Area X.O in Ottawa. Sponsored by Transport Canada and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, it was a full day of demonstrations from Canadian leaders in the world of Smart Mobility. 

InDro was there, of course, displaying our InDro Pilot-enabled Wayfinder drone, as well a *lot* of ground robots. CEO Philip Reece moderated a panel – and was also in charge of airspace for multiple drone demonstrations. That’s Philip, below, talking about aerial and ground robotics to attendees.

InDro Robotics Philip Reece
InDro Robotics Training

training

Speaking of drones, we also launched drone training and resource portal FLYY. Online lessons are carried out by our own Kate Klassen, widely recognised as one of the best (and most qualified) drone instructors in North America. Whether you’re looking to obtain your Basic or Advanced RPAS certificate, or want to further expand your skills, Kate’s got the goods.

If you’re looking for training for multiple people, Kate offers discounts for companies and educational institutes. You can reach her here.

it's a secret...

The other big thing happening in 2022 (and continuing in 2023) was InDro’s work with major global clients. We can’t disclose that work due to non-disclosure agreements, but we can tell you we’re busy with multiple, exciting, ongoing projects!

Finally, we closed out 2022 with another successful InDro Hack-a-Thon. Employees were given a day and a half to work on a project or process that could benefit InDro down the road. Once again, Team InDro delivered, with some amazing projects completed within the deadline. You can read all about it here

a final word...

As you can see, it’s been quite a year – and CEO Philip Reece couldn’t be happier.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work InDro accomplished in 2022,” he says. “Our engineering and sales staff consistently punch above their weight, with multiple significant milestones – including excellent revenue growth – achieved in the past year. Just as gratifying is the fact our employees love what they do.”

Very true. Now stay tuned for an even more amazing 2023.

And if you’d like to reach InDro, just give that little orange button a click. Though we’ve got plenty of robots, we’ll make sure a real human being gets back to you shortly.

InDro Robotics and T-Mobile: A 5G match

InDro Robotics and T-Mobile: A 5G match

InDro Robotics was recently invited to attend an analyst’s summit in Bellevue, Washington State, put on by T-Mobile for Business. We were demonstrating remote operations of our Sentinel inspection robot, with Command & Control taking place over the 5G network. We were at the summit; the robot was in Ottawa.

We’ll get to that in a moment. But first, it’s worth looking at how InDro became involved with T-Mobile. It began with a different invitation. This one, from the Electric Power Research Institute, or EPRI.

EPRI is a major non-profit that does research and development to improve the efficiency of power generation and delivery. As the Institute states: “EPRI’s trusted experts collaborate with more than 450 companies in 45 countries, driving innovation to ensure the public has clean, safe, reliable, affordable, and equitable access to electricity across the globe.”

EPRI does a *lot* of testing within its R&D scope, often looking to find Best Practices it can share with its members. And in 2022, EPRI decided it wanted to put some ground robots to the test. Specifically, it was interested in how remotely operated or autonomous robots might be used to inspect electrical substations. These are usually remote, unstaffed facilities where high voltage is stepped down prior to being delivered to consumers (though some substations step up voltage).

EPRI invited a few ground robot manufacturers to its testing facility in Lenox, Massachusetts to see how well robots could carry out remote inspection. That facility is an electrical substation that can be energised or de-energised. It also features a set of overhead water pipes that can be used to simulate rain.

And so, earlier this year, InDro Robotics packed up Sentinel for the test.

 

Sentinel at EPRI

The 5G connection

 

Sentinel, like all of our ground robots (and drones), has been modified by InDro to enable remote teleoperations. By connecting to 4G or 5G networks at both ends, InDro devices can be operated from hundreds and even thousands of kilometres away. But while 4G works for many operations, 5G is the gold standard.

That’s because 5G allows for dense data downloads, virtually in real-time. Since the Sentinel robot is equipped with multiple sensors (30x optical zoom pan-tilt-zoom camera, thermal, and sometimes LiDAR), a large data pipeline is advantageous. Not only does it enable real-time, minimal latency for the operator – it also allows for direct data uploads to the cloud.

InDro, of course, is based in Canada. And the EPRI test facility is based in the US. That meant we required a high-speed, robust cellular network in the US to carry out the test.

Because InDro is an R&D company, we did extensive research prior to selecting a US carrier. We wanted to make a single choice and stick with it, given the growing number of deployments in the US.

The choice quickly became obvious: T-Mobile. Its 5G network covers the entire country, with new towers being added each week. T‑Mobile has 5G speeds nearly twice as fast as its competitors. Typical download speeds on T‑Mobile’s 5G network are 75 – 335 Mbps with peaks over 1Gbps.

And when we were in Bellevue on T-Mobile’s network? Just check out the speed test below:

 

T-Mobile Speed

T-Mobile Summit

 

T-Mobile got wind of us selecting them as our network of choice for US operations. The company even issued a news release on that front. And Peter King, InDro’s Head of Robotic Solutions, wrote a guest blog about the Lenox experience and why a solid 5G network is so important to this kind of work.

And all of that? Well, it led to InDro being invited to the first-ever T-Mobile for Business Analysts Summit, held in Bellevue in October. We were asked to demonstrate the low-latency and data throughput that 5G enables. And what better way than to have our Sentinel robot connected to 5G in Ottawa…with us connected to 5G in Bellevue.

Those attending the summit were invited to the InDro display, where they could operate the robot using a simple Xbox controller. Video and thermal imaging were returned in real-time. But the real star of the show was near-zero latency. Seriously, the instant the controller was touched Sentinel would respond.

The hands-on demo even impressed John Saw, a McMaster engineering graduate who’s now the Executive Vice President, Advanced & Emerging Technologies at T-Mobile. Here’s John, controlling Sentinel over 5G in Ottawa from more than 4100km away:

John Saw T-Mobile 5G

It’s clear John Saw thought the experience was kind of cool – and indicative of the kind of applications 5G unlocks.

In fact, he even mentioned it to the analysts:

InDro’s take

 

5G connectivity is about a lot more than phone calls. The speed and bandwidth of 5G is what will power the growing Internet of Things. And our Sentinel robot, arguably, is an IoT device. Operating it using T-Mobile’s network in the US, connected to the private 5G network at Area X.O, was a snap.

“Building ground and aerial robots that can be operated from great distances is integral to InDro Robotics and its clients,” explains InDro CEO Philip Reece. “But this capability can only be realized with fast, reliable networks. T-Mobile was the obvious choice for our US operations – and we look forward to many more deployments over 5G in the future.”

Finally, a shout-out to T-Mobile for Business. Thanks for inviting us to Washington State; it was a privilege to be able to showcase our technology with the help of your 5G network.

What InDro does

What InDro does

By Scott Simmie

 

Have you ever wondered: What exactly InDro Robotics does?

The answer might surprise you.

InDro is often described as a research and development company. While accurate, that isn’t very explanatory. So we’ll give the first word to CEO Philip Reece.

“InDro Robotics does a lot of different things – ranging from product development to service provision to creating and building solutions for global clients,” he says. “But all of these tasks have some things in common:

“This is an engineering-first company – dedicating to inventing, enhancing and deploying technologies and products that make difficult work easier and more efficient. Customers purchase these technologies, and we are also a service provider using these InDro innovations.”

That’s a good starting point. But what does that actually look like? We thought a good way to explain this might be to look at some of the milestones the company has accomplished between September of 2021 and 2022.

There are, unfortunately, some that we’re prohibited from telling you about due to non-disclosure agreements with clients. But even without those, it’s been a very productive year.

InDro Commander

We’ll start with something that has allowed many clients to quickly customise and deploy ground robots. You’ll see this in the image below; it’s the module sitting directly on top of the robot chassis below. Specifically, it’s toward the front of the chassis above the InDro Robotics logo.

CANSEC Sentinel

The process

 

There’s an interesting backstory here. One of the things InDro is known for is building custom robots designed for specific tasks. But building robots – especially building multiple robots with different functionalities – is hard work.

We have a head start on this process, because we use the excellent platforms built by AgileX, China’s leading producer of quality robotic platforms and locomotion systems. But – and you can ask any robot builder – the real challenge is building robots that do things besides move.

You need to integrate sensors – everything from optical and thermal sensors to LiDAR and even arms with end effectors. You’ve got to figure out how to power these sensors and pull their data – a task that involves much more than wiring. With most robots, it means finding and integrating the proper software from the Robot Operating System libraries (ROS and ROS2). Then you generally need an onboard computer to process that data – along with coming up with a solution to moving that data from the robot to somewhere else.

Our engineering team thought there had to be a better way. In particular, lead engineer Arron Griffiths envisioned a module that might act like a kit to make this process much, much easier. InDro Robotics then developed and tested a module that could be added to most ground robotic platforms. It contains a powerful Jetson computer for onboard EDGE processing, multiple USB slots for adding peripheral sensors, two wide-angle cameras to give the operator a 360° view of the robot’s surroundings, and more.

That “more” includes the ability to operate the robot, in realtime, over a 5G or 4G cellular connection. The browser-based console provides data from all sensors in a clean and easy to navigate dashboard. And the operation? You can simply use an Xbox controller and operate your newly integrated robot from down the street – or across the country.

You can learn more about InDro Commander in this story. But the point here is that our engineers identified a problem and came up with a solution. Many of our products have a similar origin: Thinking of a new way to do things that’s easier and more efficient.

InDro now regularly manufactures and ships Commanders to clients globally, providing the ability to rapidly customise any ground robot utilising the Robot Operating System – without all the hassle. (If you’re interested in more details, feel free to reach out to Account Executive Luke Corbeth.)

Now that you’ve got the Commander basics, let’s take a brief look at our ground inspection robot Sentinel.

 

InDro Sentinel

Location, location, location

 

The phrase doesn’t just apply to real estate.

Many companies have valuable assets in remote locations. To inspect such locations generally means dispatching one or two employees to make the often-long trek and then simply walk around and ensure things are working as they should be. They’ll check for any signs of corrosion or wear, perhaps watch and listen for electrical arcing or test for thermal anomalies, even watch out for signs that wildlife has been chewing on wires or building nests in locations that might pose a risk. Inspectors are also frequently dispatched following violent weather events.

InDro started thinking about this problem, with a particular focus on electrical substations – often-remote and uncrewed facilities where the current from high-voltage transmission Iines is stepped-down for delivery to consumers. What if a robot could be placed on site that could carry out these inspections remotely? In fact, what if InDro took the InDro Commander module and customised a new ground robot for the task?

That’s how Sentinel came to be. The tracked robot features a 30x optical tilt-pan-zoom camera, a thermal sensor – along with any additional sensors clients would like incorporated. Sentinel can autonomously return to its wireless charging base and can literally be left on its own for months. An operator can remotely carry out regular inspections, read gauges, capture high-resolution photo and video, check for thermal anomalies – and generally accomplish nearly everything that could be carried out by a human inspector without the time and expense. Plus, Sentinel can be dispatched within minutes when necessary.

You can read more about Sentinel here. The robot also recently took part in exhaustive testing at the Electrical Power Research Institute’s (EPRI) substation test facility in Lenox, Massechusetts.

This is a great example of where one InDro innovation – the Commander module – helped pave the way for a second innovation: Sentinel.

It also contributed to a third: The ROLL-E delivery robot:

 

InDro London Drugs Roll-E

ROLL-E

 

ROLL-E is another beneficiary of the InDro Commander invention. This delivery robot is capable of remotely teleoperated urban deliveries, such as from a retail outlet to a home.

InDro has already completed trials with London Drugs at a Victoria location, delivering goods purchased online for curbside pickup.

InDro now has a second-generation ROLL-E, which the company will be unveiling shortly. ROLL-E 2.0 has been purpose-built to maximize integration into an urban environment with features like signals, brake and running lights – and a series of cameras (including depth perception cameras) to provide the operator with a 360° view of ROLL-E’s surroundings. Goods are contained in a secure cargo bay that opens only when the recipient interacts with a touch-screen.

And that’s not all.

InDro is currently building the InDro Backpack – a smaller version of Commander. Its purpose? To offer the same capabilities for teleoperation and high speed data transmission on the Unitree GO1 and its other quadrupeds.

Here’s a brief video demonstrating teleoperation of the GO1 as the backpack was under development; InDro anticipates the bolt-on 4G/5G system will be ready for clients later this fall.

 

What about drones?

 

Good question. While we were developing Commander, a similar but separate project was underway for aerial robots.

Ahmad Tamimi Area X.O

InDro Capsule

 

See that guy on the right? That’s Ahmad Tamimi, an engineer at InDro’s Area X.O location in Ottawa.

When this photo was taken in the fall of 2021, he was deep into something called NERDS (Network Enhanced Realtime Drone project). It was a technology challenge in conjunction with the Ontario Centre of Innovation, Ericsson and the ENCQOR 5G network – a testbed corridor that runs through Quebec and Ontario.

You can find full details of that project here – and a link to InDro’s White Paper on NERDS here. But in a nutshell, Tamimi created a module similar to Commander, only for Enterprise drones using the Pixhawk flight controller. It enables operations over cellular, including real-time dense-data uploads directly to the cloud during flight. It also broadcasts to nearby traditional aircraft that a drone is operating – a tremendous boost to BVLOS flights.

Here’s a picture of that module on top of our Wayfinder drone:

InDro Pilot NERDS

InDro Pilot

 

InDro didn’t stop there. The company created an entire software suite – InDro Pilot – for Enterprise drones (and, specifically, drones using the InDro Capsule).

That software makes it a snap to add and integrate other sensors onto drones and carry out low-latency flights over cellular networks. As with Commander, sensors can simply be plugged in to InDro Capsule, and the dashboard allows for drag-and-drop sensors modules to be added to the software suite. Want a winch? Simply add on the winch module and all operational controls and parameters are added to the InDro Pilot software. A robust and encrypted link between the InDro Ground Station and the drone ensures that any data collected remains secure. 

This project was completed in that 2021-2022 window we established earlier. InDro is currently creating a smaller and lighter InDro Capsule for commercialization of the entire InDro Pilot system. 

Here’s a screen grab of the winch software module:

InDro Pilot Winch

One more time

 

And here’s a look at the complete system…

Again, if you’d like a more thorough look at that system you’ll find far more details here.

InDro Pilot

That’s not all…

 

As mentioned, it’s been a highly productive year at InDro. We’ve flown drones in the NRC Wind Tunnel in Ottawa for research on urban wind tunnels. The company has partnered with UBC, Honeywell and others on a major research project involving flights over 5G and using AI software to precisely predict energy demands and costs of any planned drone mission.

As drones begin deliveries at scale in the future, the data being obtained about the capabilities of 5G networks to handle multiple drones simultaneously – as well as costs – will be tremendously useful to the industry-at-large.

All this, while carrying out service provision for clients on a global scale, including this mission in Saudi Arabia. (That’s our photogrammetry/GIS specialist Eric Saczuk in the photo).

InDro in Saudi Arabia

Before we forget…

 

InDro was also in the news this year for its role in the Drone Detection Pilot Project at the Ottawa International Airport.

During the protests in the nation’s capital, data obtained by the system revealed that scores of unauthorized drone flights were taking place in restricted airspace – including above Parliament Hill, over 24 Sussex Drive, and even near embassies and other sensitive locations.

InDro takes part in this project – and supplies the drone detection equipment for free – because there’s valuable data being obtained that contributes to both safety at YOW and informed policy and procedures.

In fact, the news even made the cover of WINGS magazine:

InDro Robotics & YOW Drone Detection Pilot Project

Wait, there’s more!

 

Hard to believe, but there is (and congrats for sticking through this long-ish read!).

InDro reached several other milestones between the fall of 2021 and 2022. The company can’t, unfortunately, share details of these due to non-disclosure agreements. But innovative solutions have been created for global clients. In one example, a prototype robot was so successful that InDro received orders for many more.

On top of that, the company has worked closely with industry and regulatory partners during this period, including delivering InDro Pilot-enabled drones to Transport Canada and assisting RPAS parachute manufacturer AVSS with testing of its latest product. 

AVSS Parachute Drone system

InDro’s Take

 

With an agile and motivated team, InDro Robotics has created multiple new and innovative products in the course of a single year. Some of these were created specifically for clients, while others were organic in nature. The development of InDro Commander has paved the way for multiple robots (Sentinel, ROLL-E, ROLL-E 2.0). In addition, the company has shipped custom Commander-enabled robots to clients – including one fully customized for Solar Farm inspection. Many clients are now order Commander modules to make the customization of their own ground robotics platforms a vastly easier process.

In addition, the development of the InDro Capsule and InDro Pilot system for Enterprise drones will soon allow clients to easily customize their RPAS with additional sensors, along with secure high-data bandwidth (direct to Cloud) and remote teleoperations via console over cellular networks. Stay tuned for more on that.

CEO Philip Reece got the first word in this summary; he also gets the last:

“I’m justifiably proud of our team for the multiple milestones we’ve surpassed during the past year,” he says. “InDro has created numerous products – and participated in multiple projects – where we’ve been able to push the envelope. Every single one of these products and processes uses technological innovations to make hard jobs easier, or to significantly expand the capabilities of drones and robots. The team has really hit its stride.”

Hopefully, this gives you a much better idea of What InDro Robotics Does. And why we proudly call ourselves an R&D company.

 

Putting Sentinel through its paces at EPRI

Putting Sentinel through its paces at EPRI

By Scott Simmie

 

There’s testing. And then there’s “real-world” testing.

For example, InDro Robotics builds and tests drones and ground robots. We do this constantly, pushing for continuous improvements (and even breakthroughs) with our products. In BC, we’re frequently flying missions to test cellular connectivity or our new proprietary drone software, InDro Pilot.

At Area X.O in Ottawa, we routinely deploy our ground robots on missions to test tele-operations, new sensors, and even autonomous functions. (We have a real advantage here, because Area X.O is made for robots. There are several roads – and even traffic lights – designated for testing and use by autonomous vehicles.)

And while such research always provides us with useful data, it’s just not the same as putting technology to the test in a real-world environment.

That’s why we took Sentinel – our custom-built robot for monitoring and inspection at remote facilities – to Massachusetts.

 

InDro Sentinel

The EPRI challenge

 

EPRI stands for the Electric Power Research Institute. It’s a non-profit energy research, development and deployment organisation. EPRI is constantly doing research – collaborating with more than 450 private companies across 45 countries globally. The purpose, according to its website, is to “ensure the public has clean, safe, reliable, affordable, and equitable access to electricity across the globe.” EPRI shares its research with members, which represent virtually all facets of the power generation and delivery sector.

EPRI has multiple research facilities, including one in Lenox, Massachusetts. This particular location features an electrical substation that can be energised, de-energised – and can even simulate rain for testing purposes.

Earlier this year, InDro Robotics was one of a small number of companies to participate in research to analyse the effectiveness of remotely-operated and autonomous ground robots in a variety of conditions. The purpose was to determine the ability of such devices to carry out inspection and monitoring – including whether these robots could detect problems such as arcing.

InDro EPRI Arcing

The InDro Team

 

We dispatched InDro Account Executive Luke Corbeth and Robotics Engineer Austin Greisman (along with Sentinel, of course) to the EPRI facility in Lenox, Massachusetts.

“EPRI’s goal for this program was to evaluate technologies that are capable of 24/7 autonomous substation inspection and security monitoring,” explains Corbeth. “This put Sentinel in a real substation environment, to conduct inspections and security patrols amidst powerful electrical currents.”

In fact, there was a series of specific tests during the week-long demonstration. These included all permutations of the following:

  • With the substation energised and de-energised
  • With simulated rain and without rain
  • During daylight and at night

That makes for eight separate missions carried out in different conditions – including an energised substation with simulated rain during nighttime, and a de-energised substation on a clear day.

In addition, each of the above eight missions was carried out both via remote teleoperations – and also autonomously. Factor that in, and there were 16 separate challenges.

And that’s not all. EPRI engineers carried out their own tests on Sentinel, seeing how well it handled inclines, manoeuvres through mud, what weight it could carry at what speeds, and battery life. On these tests, Sentinel performed very well.

“Once we were on site, the value that Sentinel brings to utilities became very apparent – especially identifying thermal signatures to identify (overheating) components onsite or intruders trying to break in,” says Corbeth.

“The performance at night and during simulated rain tests was very successful. They actually have hoses that go overhead and can blast the site with water.”

FYI, the image below is a screenshot from the secure, browser-based controller for Sentinel. The operator can see all key parameters, control propulsion and camera systems, in real-time.

Sentinel EPRI

Lessons learned

 

At the outset, we told you this was very much a real-world test for Sentinel. If this article were simply a piece of marketing, we’d tell you that everything went perfectly. But it didn’t, and there were lessons learned.

For one thing, we discovered that Sentinel’s track-based locomotion – though ideal in numerous demanding terrains – fell somewhat short in the heavy gravel bed of this substation. Pieces of gravel got caught in the tracks from time to time. As a result, we’re now building a rugged wheel-based variant of Sentinel specifically for this kind of surface (though the tracked version will still be available).

We also faced some challenges with autonomous missions. For one thing, at the time of testing Sentinel did not yet have an optical-based docking system for wireless re-charging (it does now). We also originally thought that a GPS-based guidance system would work in this environment. And while it did, we soon realized that SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation And Mapping) would be a better option. That feature will be integrated into Sentinels going forward.

“The opportunity to get onsite enabled us to test our autonomy package and understand what it’s good at, as well as what needs to be improved,” says Corbeth. “We believe we’re well on our way to a complete, 24/7 autonomous solution. I’d say we’re 85 per cent of the way there. This is new technology” 

InDro Engineer Austin Greisman on-site in Lenox with Sentinel

Austin Greisman Sentinel

InDro’s Take

 

Research and development, as we often say, is at the very core of InDro Robotics.  And a big part of R&D is testing outside of the confines of the lab.

And while we were very pleased with many aspects of Sentinel’s performance in the field, we also identified areas where there was room for improvement. Sentinel is now capable of fully autonomous docking to its wireless charging station, and we’re well along the path with fine-tuning SLAM on this device.

Full autonomy, as many of you know, is a difficult challenge. Whether it’s ground robots or drones, InDro has always taken a “Crawl, Walk, Run” approach. Sentinel is now hitting its stride with walking – and getting ready to run.

InDro launches monthly newsletter

A word (or two) from InDro Robotics

 

Welcome to the first in a new series of monthly newsletters from the InDro Robotics team!

These newsletters will cover the latest news from InDro Robotics – including the inside story from our R&D facilities (at least the stuff we can tell you about!).

First up? The big news: We have officially released the new InDro “Commander” – a module that vastly simplifies the challenges of building and customizing a teleoperated UGV. Commander is about the size of a small toaster oven. It bolts onto any platform and simply connects with two wires for power.

But don’t let that simplicity fool you: This is one mighty box, containing not only an NVIDIA processor for Edge computing, but high-speed USB ports for sensor management. Just as importantly, it contains the Robot Operating System (ROS) libraries required to make everything work together.

You might have seen our news release announcing the product. If not, here’s a teaser:

Commander News Release snippet

(You can find the entire release, which includes links to images, a video and a complete story on the product, right here.)

“The product also leads the way with a unique feature for developers: It is a platform agnostic solution – meaning that it can work with any platform that developers need,” explains Anthony Guolla, a robotics engineer specializing in Client Sales and Support. 

“Whether your platform of choice is AgileX Robotics or any other major provider, The InDro Commander has your hardware, computer, and integration covered. InDro and our partners have already taken large strides in deploying real-world solutions accelerated by Commander and we are excited to share it with the rest of the world in 2022!” 

Commander

Commander and Sentinel

 

If you’ve had a chance to read the release, you’ll know Commander evolved organically from our own work designing robots for clients and for R&D. Every time we went to integrate sensors and make the robot operational, we were running into common but time-consuming steps: Finding power for the sensors, installing Robot Operating System (ROS) software, and generally making the whole package work. (Trust us, there are a *lot* of steps involved.) 

Commander has been designed to eliminate the painstaking stuff, allowing you to quickly add the sensors of your choice and operate the robot using our web-based console. 

It has also allowed us to rapidly iterate new machines, and we’re particularly proud of a Commander-powered robot we call “Sentinel.”

 

Inspections, simplified

Sentinel

Sentinel is a purpose-built inspection and surveillance robot, ideally suited to applications like electrical substations. These are the places where the high-voltage power carried by transmission lines is stepped-down for delivery from the substation to homes and other customers. Such facilities are often located in remote areas, difficult to reach for regular inspections by human beings.

“Right now, highly trained technicians make lengthy journeys between sites and frequently arrive without the proper resources to solve the problem on-hand,” explains InDro Account Executive Luke Corbeth.

“Seldom are these inspections, which include meter reading, temperature control and checking equipment conditions, done as frequently as they could be. Without sufficient maintenance, equipment will fail and result in an outage, which is financially detrimental to business and inconvenient for consumers.”

With Sentinel, regular inspections can be carried out remotely by a human operator who is hundreds, even thousands of kilometres away via the internet. Using Sentinel’s Pan-Tilt-Zoom camera (with 20x optical zoom and thermal sensor), the operator can check out even the tiniest detail from afar.

Check out this image, taken from the web-based Sentinel Console:

Commander Console

Potential clients who have been given a sneak preview are impressed.

“We’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response from partners and utility companies for this solution. As a result, we’re making it a priority to deploy more of this technology across North America in 2022,” says Corbeth.

Sentinel can be deployed on a number of platforms, depending on the terrain and user requirements. Our first Sentinel is based on the AgileX Bunker platform. We selected Bunker because it’s rugged and nearly impervious to inclement weather. The track-based locomotion system handles well in snow, mud and other challenging conditions and terrain. But Sentinel is also offered with wheels, and even quadripedal or other form factors.

If you’re interested in learning more about Sentinel’s capabilities, hit us up here.

Learning

 

InDro Robotics has long been a champion of quality instruction when it comes to drones. We believe in ensuring that prospective pilots have access to the very highest quality learning materials and methods, with Subject Matter Experts leading the way. We also believe in community, where those following a learning path can learn from, inspire, and support one another.

That’s why we’re particularly excited about an initiative we’re launching led by Kate Klassen. Kate, as you might already know, is a seasoned veteran of both crewed aviation and UAVs. She was a driving force behind the excellent educational work carried out by Coastal Drones – and is a member of the Canadian Drone Advisory Committee, also known as CanaDAC.

If you’re interested in obtaining your Remotely Piloted Aircraft Certificate, you can sign up here. (And, trust us on this, there’s much more to come!)

Kate learning

“I am so excited to be back in the instructor seat with new, up-to-date training to share with the industry,” says Klassen.

“Already this year we’ve launched ground school for basic pilots, updated our advanced ground school, have the first in a series of ‘Flyy Guides’ published and are creating a community space for more casual learning and sharing with others in the industry. And this is just us getting started!”

From the top

Finally, a word from CEO Philip Reece.

“This is going to be a very exciting year at InDro Robotics. Commander is a hugely innovative solution to the hard work of building robots – and end-users have already seen tremendous efficiencies. Sentinel takes full advantage of the Commander module, meaning clients now have access to a proven teleoperated inspection solution that can be quickly modified with additional sensors and capabilities down the road. I’m immensely proud of the work InDro’s engineers have put into these solutions.

Wait, there’s more!

“InDro is also pleased about Kate’s forthcoming community platform, which will complement our learning portal. She is a total professional, and the hard work she has been putting in reflects this. I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say we look forward to formally unveiling the full platform shortly.”

Give us a shout

Questions? Comments? We’re always happy to answer queries and read feedback. Hit us up here.

If you enjoyed reading this InDro Robotics news and would like to receive these bulletins automatically, click here. (Don’t worry, we only send these once a month.)

InDro Robotics “Sentinel”

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.