ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A University of Michigan professor is demonstrating that the sky is the limit for how drones can be used to aid roofing contractors.
Ella Atkins, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, designed a drone system that can autonomously nail down shingles. According to New Scientist, she was inspired to design it after having to repair her own roof years ago.
The drone works by having a ground-based motion-sensing system track its position. By using this information, Atkins tested the drone’s capabilities with a mocked-up roof at the university’s M-Air outdoor fly lab. By modifying the drone with a nail gun, it successfully hovered over the mock roof while nailing down asphalt roofing tiles before safely landing back on the ground.
A drone that can nail shingles may sound like the prelude to robots taking over roofing contractor jobs, but Atkins doesn’t believe professionals have to worry. She said even if drones are widely used, they would still need human support, including preparing the drones’ tools and materials.
Safety should not be of concern, either. The firing mechanism for the drone’s nail gun is only unlocked by pressing the gun’s tip against a surface. Additionally, thanks to its eight propellers, the drone isn’t prone to going off course when firing the nail gun.
“It has force, but only for a very brief amount of time, which means that a fairly substantial octocopter like we’re flying only sees a blip in its motion,” Atkins told New Scientist.
If the idea of a nail-gunning drone sounds intriguing, Atkins said her current system would need to be adjusted for commercial use. This would include equipping the drone with a power cord and pneumatic air supply so it could fly longer and use a professional-grade nail gun.
Last year, the University of Michigan opened its M-Air outdoor lab to safely test algorithms and equipment for autonomous aerial vehicles. Along with the nail gun drone, Atkins is developing roofing robots to carry and even position shingles.
Drones have become an increasingly important aspect of the roofing industry. Most recently, Kespry and XAP 360 launched a new drone-based platform that uses autonomous drones to inspect residential roofs, cutting inspection times to as little as 10 minutes.