Artificial Intelligence-Powered Drone Could Bring Autonomy to ‘Next Level’


An automated inspection by an intelligent drone with deep-learning capabilities was demonstrated today by Aerialtronics, a Dutch unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) manufacturer; Neurala, a creator of deep-learning software; and NVIDIA, a creator of GPU-accelerated computing.

Taking place at the GPU Technology Conference Europe, the demo used Aerialtronics’ Altura Zenith UAS with the NVIDIA Jetson TX1 module. The UAS featured a dual-camera payload with Neurala’s deep-learning neural network software, which is capable of finding and recognizing objects in flight.

“Neurala’s deep-learning, neural networks software makes it possible for the application to continually learn about different types of cell towers and items to be inspected,” explains Roger Matus, vice president of products and marketing for Neurala.

“Our learning algorithms will make it possible for the software to work globally and to expand to include the inspections of other types of infrastructure. A drone with Neurala software is capable of recognizing its environment and making decisions based on what it sees. Our future plan is to add autonomy so that drone inspections can be run at the push of a button,” Matus continues.

According to Aerialtronics, the drone can identify objects and their condition while it is in flight – in turn, dramatically increasing the efficiency and accuracy of documenting assets. Uses include inspecting areas that may be difficult or dangerous to access, such as cell towers and wind turbines.

“Not only can we do clever things with the vision and thermal data – we can connect the flight computer so the drone is fully aware of its surroundings,” says Robin van Putte, chief of product strategy at Aerialtronics. “We don’t want to end our inspection mission with a SD card in our hand and invest a lot of time in data offload and post-processing.

“Instead, we want to be able to immediately verify the results and take quick decisions. Having artificial intelligence technology on board accelerates our roadmap to full automation of the drone workflow.”

Jeremy Wigmore, CEO of Aerialtronics, notes that the demo was the “first in a series of real-world, commercially viable, intelligent drone applications that [the company is] developing for a broad range of industrial markets, such as telecoms, energy and construction.”

Neurala’s CEO, Massimiliano Versace, adds that it is working with Aerialtronics to bring “drone autonomy to the next level.”

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