It looks like a soccer ball and bounces about like one – but it’s actually a drone inside a tubular cage.
This is Flyability’s Elios, a ‘collision-tolerant UAV designed for industrial inspection professionals’. It’s marketed and sold by Gammatec which is 55% owned by NTP Radioisotopes SOC Ltd, part of the NECSA group of Companies, South Africa’s nuclear body
It seems a strange fit until Jan-Albert Viljoen explains that GammaTec sells the radio-active isotopes made by Pelindaba for x-rays, as well as all the accessories and consumables for ‘non-destructive testing’, from radiography to ultrasound, phased array, virtual testing, dye penetration and magnetic particle.
Big industries need this testing all the time; Sasol, Eskom, engineering firms, and anywhere pipes, welds and other structures have to be tested, at the construction phase, on installation and thereafter for regular maintenance. It can be used to check ships’ holds, tanks and vessels, tunnels, stacks, roofs and even furnaces.
The Swiss manufactured Elios is the latest of the 3000 products they sell, a virtual inspection tool for verification and fault finding. It’s got a full 1920 x 1080p HD camera on board, two very bright headlights and comes with its own flight and hand-held controller.
“It has a range of 2 km,” said Viljoen, “but because of the industrial space you’re never going to use it more than a couple of hundred metres, maybe even less depending on the types of areas you’re flying it in.”
There are only five in the country, which doesn’t seem like much until you realise that the drone was only launched in South Africa last November – and retails for $25 500.
There’s huge interest in it though, and Viljoen dominates the flying cage in the middle of DroneCon 2018 at every breaktime.
“This one can do things all the rest can’t,” he laughs, piloting it between cones and through narrow openings, before handing over the console to one of attendees to fly, while he grabs it and throws it like a ball into the wall of the cage.
In addition to inspection duties, there are defence and security applications for Elios, such as explosives/bomb disposal surveillance, and the French RAID (Research, Assistance, Intervention, Deterrence) law enforcement team recently adopted the drone.
Flyability said the unique ability of Elios to tolerate collisions makes it ideal for deployment in critical urban scenarios such as hostage situations, isolated shooter, or even terrorist attacks inside buildings.
In addition to RAID, Elios is used by several special law enforcement units in Europe and the Middle East.
Patrick Thévoz, CEO of Flyability said “we believe in the use of technology to reduce the exposure of humans to risks and in particular for homeland security professionals, firefighters, and first responders operating in confined spaces. This mission is our priority, and we look forward to continuing to develop the technologies of the future for this purpose.”