Emesent, a startup based in Brisbane, Australia, has launched Hovermap, a LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) 3D point cloud scanning device for professional c-drones, at the International LiDAR Mapping Forum (ILMF) in Denver, Colorado on January 29th.
Drone-based LiDAR capture enables precise 3D digital scanning of an area’s features (structures, topography, vegetation) and is well-suited for “3Ds” (dirty, dangerous and difficult) tasks, eliminating risks for workers inspecting infrastructure or mines. A 3D map loaded in a computer enables an inspector to explore a virtual representation of an area.
Available in two versions — the HF1 optimized for underground and vertical asset inspection and the VF1 optimized for mapping large areas — a Hovermap attaches underneath any VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) drone which can lift the 1.8kg (4 lb) payload for passive mapping in manually piloted flight or along GPS waypoints. However, in autonomous mode when paired with a Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI) A3 Autopilot compatible drone such the M600, M200, M210, or Wind4 models, the Hovermap offers omnidirectional collision avoidance and can be easily and safely flown near infrastructure such as buildings, pylons and towers and in so-called GPS-denied environments such as under bridges or indoors. Hovermap-enabled c-drones are particularly adapted to tunnel and mine inspections. Simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) means that an area is scanned by the Hovermap and simultaneously stored onboard and communicated to the drone’s autopilot, creating a configurable “virtual bubble” without the need for GPS; the drone can sense and avoid fixed obstacles. Point cloud data is stored in the Hovermap in LAZ and PLY formats, then offloaded to a local computer for importing in any third-party Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software package.
Hovermap has been extensively used in real-world scanning missions by early-adopter clients in Australia, the US, Canada, China and Japan for inspection and mapping in mining (above and below ground), oil and gas infrastructure, telecom and power transmission towers, and bridges, roads, and tunnels.
Emesent was founded by former employees of the Data61 technology division of CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), Australia’s national science research agency. In December, the company announced $3.5 million AUD ($2.5M USD / €2.2M EUR) in investment to commercialize the Hovermap from the Australian government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) through its venture fund, Main Sequence Ventures. CSIRO’s ON Accelerate program also provided support.
CSIRO’s Data61 branch, working with Emesent, was selected as one of seven finalists to win funding in the US Defense Advanced Projects Agency (DARPA) Subterranean Challenge project with a $2M USD (€1.7M EUR) prize; CSIRO is the only non-American participant. The contest’s goal is to develop new approaches to rapidly map, navigate, and search underground environments. A year ago, Emesent used Hovermap to send a c-drone autonomously BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) through a gold mine in Western Australia hundreds of meters below ground, 3D-mapping cavities or rooms called stopes [video].
The company does not publish standard pricing for Hovermap, although it did say that for customers there is an initial cost with a minimum two-year monthly subscription which covers the hardware and software (drone autonomy and SLAM), including software updates. A major update planned for this year will allow fully autonomous inspections via waypoints set in an existing scan; this means that following a first piloted scan (with collision avoidance), subsequent scans can be performed autonomously, which will allow changes between scans to be reported. According to the company, eventually the software will allow a c-drone to “discover” an enclosed space autonomously, scanning and mapping to successfully navigate to and from its starting point.