Autonomous drone warehouse inspection

Distribution centers and warehouse businesses are sensitive to operation down-time. Any time-consuming repairs can significantly influence warehouse operation and result in reduced operability, which ultimately influences customers and decreases turnover. Therefore, regular inspections are crucial to prevent costly repairs. However, such regular inspections using traditional methods such as rope access or scaffolding are costly, time-consuming, and cause operation restrictions.

Using drones for warehouse inspections offers a solution that prevents all the drawbacks mentioned above. Using a drone to conduct the initial inspection does not require any significant operation restrictions. Moreover, it is fast, relatively inexpensive, and very efficient. 

For the Aleego company which provides indoor inspections of warehouses, we built a small drone suitable for repetitive inspection tasks in GPS-denied halls and warehouses.

The system named INEEGO is designed for autonomous navigation indoors in a partly known map. The drone’s on-board computer allows uploading a predefined path in a constant altitude (i.e. at two, three, five meters, etc.). Since the drone must be moving close to obstacles, but is in a known environment, we elected to use semi-autonomous flights. The drone is moving along the predefined trajectory and uses on-board sensors for obstacle detection and avoidance. The path itself can be verified or adjusted by the end user prior to the mission.

INEEGO carries a set of different sensors that are used to increase reliability: optical flow from a down-looking monocular camera, Velodyne LiDAR’s Puck LITE-16, a 3D camera, and a LiDAR altitude rangefinder. The solution is scalable. Removing or adding a sensor can be done easily with just a tiny change in software configuration. A collision tolerant frame can be mounted if necessary.

The entire trajectory of the inspection can be recorded with a focus on the potentially most problematic parts, such as AC pipelines and their joints, carrier beams, etc. Additionally, barcode / QR code detection can be added to the software. 

System functionalities have been proven in real conditions. The platform can be used for warehouse inspections, as well as for inspection of industrial halls. Operators can benefit from inspection saving costs and improving safety for large retail operations.