With the DroneHub an unprecedented... "aviary" for drone research

In the NEST building in the Canton of Zurich, together with several partners, the study of the interaction between flying robots, infrastructures and natural habitats

DroneHub: inside the NEST building on the EMPA campus in Dübendorf (Zurich) the path for the future coexistence of men and machines, together with companies, is to be paved
Man and machine: inside the DroneHub of the NEST building on the campus of the Swiss Federal Laboratories of Materials Science and Technology in Dübendorf (Canton of Zurich), we want to trace the path for the future coexistence of men and drones together to industry (Illustration: EMPA)

They are engaged in the maintenance and repair of buildings, observe natural phenomena and transport goods: drones and robots they could play an important role in our life in the future.
With the DroneHub, in the NEST research and innovation building on the EMPA campus in Dübendorf, a sort of aviary will be created where researchers from Swiss Federal Laboratories of Materials Science and Technology they will explore and further develop the interaction between drones, infrastructure and natural habitats together with industrial and academic partners.

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DroneHub: inside the NEST building on the EMPA campus in Dübendorf (Zurich) the path for the future coexistence of men and machines, together with companies, is to be paved
Man and machine: inside the DroneHub of the NEST building on the campus of the Swiss Federal Laboratories of Materials Science and Technology in Dübendorf (Canton of Zurich), we want to trace the path for the future coexistence of men and drones together to industry
(Illustration: EMPA)

Robots similar to our immune system that protects the human body

Just as our immune system protects the human body, in the future drones will take care of the maintenance of buildings and infrastructure.
They will detect the damage and carry out the repair and maintenance work themselves.
This is how the drone researcher Mirko kovac paints the picture when he talks about his vision of the interaction between autonomous flying robots and the our environment built.
The comparison with biology and the human body is not accidental: as head of the Sustainability Robotics Lab at EMPA and director of the Aerial Robotics Lab at Imperial College London, he and his team are inspired by nature for their searches.

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DroneHub: inside the NEST building on the EMPA campus in Dübendorf (Zurich) the path for the future coexistence of men and machines, together with companies, is to be paved
Man and machine: inside the DroneHub of the NEST building on the campus of the Swiss Federal Laboratories of Materials Science and Technology in Dübendorf (Canton of Zurich), we want to trace the path for the future coexistence of men and drones together to industry
(Illustration: EMPA)

Means that dive in and out of the water just like aquatic birds

The result is drones that dive in and out of the water like waterfowl and take off in seconds, or drones that attach to walls and ceilings and descend along thin threads like spiders.
Or they are creating integers swarms of drones, inspired by a colony of bees, which they can build in a division of labor while flying and with 3D printing processes.
At the same time, researchers are working on bio-hybrid flying robots which biodegrade in nature at the end of their work, leaving no traces.

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DroneHub: inside the NEST building on the EMPA campus in Dübendorf (Zurich) the path for the future coexistence of men and machines, together with companies, is to be paved
Man and machine: inside the DroneHub of the NEST building on the campus of the Swiss Federal Laboratories of Materials Science and Technology in Dübendorf (Canton of Zurich), we want to trace the path for the future coexistence of men and drones together to industry
(Illustration: EMPA)

Flight arenas of EMPA in Dübendorf and Imperial College in London

These and other drone systems are being developed and tested today in the flight arenas of EMPA in Dübendorf and Imperial College London.
To complement this and to make the development conditions even more realistic, an aviary will now be built in the NEST research and innovation building which can be used as a permanent outdoor test environment for various applications.
“With the NEST DroneHub, we also want to better understand the needs of the industry in particular and incorporate them into our research”, explains Mirko kovacexplicitly inviting interested companies to collaborate.

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DroneHub: inside the NEST building on the EMPA campus in Dübendorf (Zurich) the path for the future coexistence of men and machines, together with companies, is to be paved
Man and machine: inside the DroneHub of the NEST building on the campus of the Swiss Federal Laboratories of Materials Science and Technology in Dübendorf (Canton of Zurich), we want to trace the path for the future coexistence of men and drones together to industry
(Illustration: EMPA)

The cage has a height of up to 11 meters and an area of ​​90 mXNUMX

The DroneHub is a kind of cage with a height of up to 11 meters and an area of ​​90 square meters. It consists of a tubular structure and mesh and will be located on the upper platform of NEST, between the two existing units DFAB HOUSE and HiLo.
Once complete, the DroneHub will provide test environments for three search fields: on the north side, an experimental facade dominates the picture.
The wall has interchangeable elements with different surfaces and is used to develop drones capable of vertical inspections and repairs.
This includes aerial 3D printing processes: in technical jargon, “aerial additive manufacturing”.

There is a drone that "climbs" trees to protect them

DroneHub: inside the NEST building on the EMPA campus in Dübendorf (Zurich) the path for the future coexistence of men and machines, together with companies, is to be paved
Man and machine: inside the DroneHub of the NEST building on the campus of the Swiss Federal Laboratories of Materials Science and Technology in Dübendorf (Canton of Zurich), we want to trace the path for the future coexistence of men and drones together to industry
(Illustration: EMPA)

3D print on the fly in realistic wind, weather and turbulence conditions

“Drones can detect and repair cracks, for example, without having to resort to elaborate scaffolding or jeopardizing people's safety”Kovac explains.
Having drones available at all times increases the speed in which damage can be repaired, while minimizing potential infrastructure disruption.
“This can be very important, especially for energy structures such as wind turbines or dams”, explains the drone expert.
The fact that the DroneHub is an open-air facility, yet embedded in a building at the same time, means that realistic conditions prevail with regard to wind, weather and the resulting turbulence.

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DroneHub: inside the NEST building on the EMPA campus in Dübendorf (Zurich) the path for the future coexistence of men and machines, together with companies, is to be paved
Man and machine: inside the DroneHub of the NEST building on the campus of the Swiss Federal Laboratories of Materials Science and Technology in Dübendorf (Canton of Zurich), we want to trace the path for the future coexistence of men and drones together to industry
(Illustration: EMPA)

A biosphere for environmental sensing thanks to flight and sensors

The second one Campo di Ricerca focuses on the interaction between drones and nature.
Current climate research relies on sensor and monitoring data from thetechnology.
“Drones are perfect data providers, especially in remote and wide-ranging areas. They can place targeted sensors in nature and read the data with regular flights."Mirko Kovac explains.
The important thing is that the sensors and drone systems themselves do not negatively impact thetechnology.
And this is precisely the goal of the DroneHub: in a natural environment, with trees and forest soil, tests with biodegradable materials for drones and sensors can be carried out.
Part of this biosphere will also serve as a greenhouse for bio-hybrid robotic structures, for example for drone components made from renewable and biodegradable materials.

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DroneHub: inside the NEST building on the EMPA campus in Dübendorf (Zurich) the path for the future coexistence of men and machines, together with companies, is to be paved
Man and machine: inside the DroneHub of the NEST building on the campus of the Swiss Federal Laboratories of Materials Science and Technology in Dübendorf (Canton of Zurich), we want to trace the path for the future coexistence of men and drones together to industry
(Illustration: EMPA)

Rules for the coexistence between man and machine and between buildings and robots

For the third research area, the DroneHub needs to be integrated with interfaces to the outside world.
“If we envision a future where drones are naturally integrated into everyday urban life and where robots and humans coexist, then we need technological rules and standards for that”Kovac explains.
Starting, for example, with landing spots on or near buildings that drones have to approach autonomously, or from charging stations, where the transport drones supply themselves with energy for the next flight.
In the DroneHub, researchers they will develop and establish technical guidelines for these interfaces between buildings and flying robots, helping to ensure that human-machine coexistence does not remain science fiction.

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DroneHub: inside the NEST building on the EMPA campus in Dübendorf (Zurich) the path for the future coexistence of men and machines, together with companies, is to be paved
Man and machine: inside the DroneHub of the NEST building on the campus of the Swiss Federal Laboratories of Materials Science and Technology in Dübendorf (Canton of Zurich), we want to trace the path for the future coexistence of men and drones together to industry
(Illustration: EMPA)

The Greater Zurich area plays a leading role in the research

EMPA's drone research has strong national and international ties, including collaborations with the Federal Polytechnic of Lausanne andImperial College London.
In addition, drone activities will also develop in the near future in the coming years Zurich Innovation Park.
Funded by the cantonal digitization initiative, a test infrastructure is being created for the flight and autonomous vehicles.
The long-term goal of the recently launched project, called LINA, is to establish a certification body for commercial drones.
The researchers of the Swiss Federal Laboratories of Materials Science and Technology are in an exchange relationship with LINA to promote complementary activities and make the Greater Zurich area a real hotspot for Swiss drone research.

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The presentation trailer of the DroneHub at the EMPA NEST building in Dübendorf

DroneHub: inside the NEST building on the EMPA campus in Dübendorf (Zurich) the path for the future coexistence of men and machines, together with companies, is to be paved
Man and machine: inside the DroneHub of the NEST building on the campus of the Swiss Federal Laboratories of Materials Science and Technology in Dübendorf (Canton of Zurich), we want to trace the path for the future coexistence of men and drones together to industry (Illustration: EMPA)