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NEST gains aviary for drone research

A kind of aviary for drone research is to be created in the NEST research and innovation building at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, located in Dübendorf in the canton of Zurich. This DroneHub is set to provide a permanent, realistic test environment for various applications.

At the DroneHub in NEST, the course for a future coexistence of humans and drones will be set together with industry.
At the DroneHub in NEST, the course for a future coexistence of humans and drones will be set together with industry. Illustration: Empa

A DroneHub is to be created in the NEST building.  As a short video produced by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) shows, this will be a kind of aviary. A metal tube construction and mesh forms a cage covering an area of 90 square meters and measuring up to 11 meters tall. According to an Empa press release, the completed DroneHub will provide test environments for three research fields.

For the first, aerial 3D printing, an experimental facade fitted with interchangeable elements is used to develop drones that can carry out aerial inspection and repair work in the vertical. “The drones can detect and repair cracks, for example, without the need for elaborate scaffolding or endangering the safety of people,” explains Mirko Kovac, head of Empa's Sustainability Robotics and director of the Aerial Robotics Lab at Imperial College London.

The second area of application, robotic environmental sensing, focuses on the interaction between drones and nature. “They can place targeted sensors in nature and read the data with regular flights,” says Kovac. He adds that this is “very relevant” for energy facilities such as wind turbines or dams, as well as for collecting climate data in impassable and wide-ranging areas.

The third area of research will develop rules and technological standards for the coexistence of robots and humans, such as interfaces between buildings and flying robots. This relates, for example, to landing sites on or near buildings or positioning of charging stations.

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