A roofing octocopter with a nail gun for ‘autonomous roofing’

Drones have been used for a variety of perception tasks including aerial photography, surveillance, and forest fire monitoring. More recently, physical handling applications such as grasping, perching, and tethered payload carriage have been explored. The drone can access sites that are dangerous and difficult for humans to reach.

One of such difficult tasks is installing a roof on a house. Engineers have developed a roofing octocopter equipped with a nail gun that is capable of attaching asphalt shingles to roofs. Developed by a team of roboticists at the University of Michigan, this aerial vehicle is autonomous, meaning that it positions the nail gun on a nailing point, places the nail and moves to the next point without needing a human at the controls.

The team used a system of markers and stationary cameras to enable the octocopter to precisely locate itself in space. They used this system to tell the octocopter where the nails should go. To fire the nail gun, they first measured the force needed to compress the point of the nail gun, which must be done before a nail will deploy. Then, they wrote software that would enable the octocopter to apply that force.

The off-the-shelf version of this electric nail gun requires a trigger to be compressed as well, but the team turned that into a virtual switch. This activated when the roofing octocopter was in a position to place a nail.

A drone with a nail gun might sound scary, but it shouldn’t go around firing nails from the air. The firing mechanism is only unlocked by pressing the gun tooltip on the surface.

Currently, it is limited to a flight time of just 10 minutes and a couple of dozen nails, that’s still enough to do a whole lot of potential damage. Or, according to its creators, some helpful roofing.

In a paper titled “Nailed It: Autonomous Roofing with a Nailgun-Equipped Octocopter” the team has described their dream of “autonomous roofing” using a multi-copter.

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