Nailed It: Autonomous Roofing Drone Takes Off

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A matter of weeks ago, the FAA issued a reminder to pilots that weaponizing drones is a bad idea and definitely against the law.

The statement seemed to be in response to an enterprising company in Ohio deciding that a flying flamethrower drone was both fun and practical.

In news that isn’t totally unrelated, University of Michigan engineers have published a paper and video footage of an autonomous drone designed for roofing. Essentially, the solution combines a nail gun with a DJI S1000 octocopter.  The drone can tack shingles onto a roof and provides an exciting glimpse into the future of construction.

The flamethrower drone from Ohio had practical applications but the marketing gave the impression that it could also be used for, er… recreational purposes. Even though this experimental, autonomous roofing drone seems to fit the FAA’s criteria for a ‘weaponized drone’, the practical applications appear much more genuine.

Autonomous roofing

To create their flying nail gun, researchers combined a DJI S1000 octocopter with an off-the-shelf nail gun. The nailgun was modified so that it could be triggered remotely. The team also designed and 3D-printed a nail gun mount from scratch, which can be adjusted to suit the slope of the roof.

To control the drone, the Michigan researchers used a modified version of Ardupilot (APM), and a motion capture feedback system to manage the autonomous nailing sequences. During testing, the system was able to secure nails within a required three-centimeter gap on each shingle.

From the video demonstration above, it’s clear that this isn’t the speediest of drone applications. But it’s early days and there’s plenty of room for development. The team suggest that upgrading to a pneumatic air gun, tethering the drone for more power and using a vision/depth-based localization system could all improve results.

roofing drone flying nail gun

In any case, it’s not necessarily about speed. Roofing is a dangerous business, and any autonomous systems that can prevent the need to put workers at risk is worth considering.

You can read more about the research here: Nailed It: Autonomous Roofing with a Nailgun-Equipped Octocopter


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