3D Robotics

Painting buildings with drones

From TechInsider:

Florida-based startup Apellix developed a prototype unmanned aerial system that can potentially paint homes or ships, apply chemicals, or pressure wash windows. It's called the "Worker Bee."

Company founder Robert Dahlstrom presented the pitch for his drone on Friday at Northrup Grumman's campus in El Segundo, California, hoping to find partners who could potentially use the technology.

"Drones can do more than gather data, take pictures, and deliver packages," Dahlstrom said. "They can do real work."

For its prototype, Apellix flies a quad-copter connected to a base station and paint materials via an umbilical cord and tether. The small drone can then paint evenly on a surface, opening a large opportunity for industrial painting of skyscrapers or ships in dry dock — which normally requires about four days and 30 people setting up scaffolding before they get started.

Apellix wants the drone to take over, which removes the need for scaffolding. And it's also focused on worker safety, since at least 95 climbers working on cell or other towers have died since 2004. "We develop technologies to keep workers safe," said Dahlstrom.

It's a unique new use case for drones, which most associate with military intelligence and targeting operations. The unmanned aircraft are increasingly being used in farming, emergency search and rescue, and overseeing construction. A 2013 report says the civilian drone industry could generate upwards of $82 billion over the next decade.

Currently, the Worker Bee is a pre-production model that can only paint small buildings up to three stories, Dahlstrom told Tech Insider. But now that the drone has a patent pending, he said, the company has emerged out of stealth mode and plans to offer it as a "platform as a service," where clients can rent the drone for about $25 an hour.

Besides painting buildings, there are other potential uses: The drones can be used to de-ice airplanes, or to fumigate ships, both of which are tasks that would keep humans from breathing in toxic chemicals. Dahlstrom also said it'd be ideal for coating above ground storage tanks, power transmission and telecommunication towers, and bridges.

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  • Hi Scott W., Gary McCray and Matt... check out the video of the Proof of Concept | Autonomous Spray Painting Drone on the Apellix YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_CRP2wtEdw&t=4s It shows a fully autonomous spray painting drone painting a straight line from point A to point B on a building (100% software controlled). The system was able to keep a constant proper distance from the wall creating a nice paint job.

  • Well, it gave me an idea..... a solenoid activated aerosol can of wasp spray to get those pesky wasp nests. That would be fun!

  • I agree with the other comments...ideas aren't all that valuable if you can't execute on it in a reasonable manner.  This wouldn't even qualify as a POC...  Additionally, painting (especially the bulk painting this piece of crap purports to do) involves relatively unskilled labor - translation: it's already inexpensive and hard to compete with in a rational market.

  • I was commenting in here 3 years ago about the potential use of tethered drones for doing this kind of work, in particular, painting, inspection and tree trimming.

    There was a New Zealand start up 2 years ago that had a seemingly (barely) workable tree trimming system.

    But this is the only other commercial use tethered multicopter I have seen.

    However, the video does more to point out the difficulties and problems than it does to demonstrate the value of this system.

    They have basically just taken a existing airless painting wand and stuck it on the bottom of a commercial heavy lift quad copter and powered it's trigger with a solenoid.

    You can see the problems that the prop down wash, highly variable distance from the building and control pitch changes have with interfering with the "painting" process.

    The reason that they showed it squirting water is that they could not begin to acheive decent painting coverage even in totally calm weather.

    And it looks like they used the top off a tomato arbor for the "landing" gear.

    The powering by a tether is nice, but certainly not new, several military multicopters have used it for several years now.

    This thing is a joke that could have been put together in an afternoon and, as it is shown, it has absolutely no practical use at all (maybe spraying insecticide, carpenter ants are a big problem in Florida).

    Anybody can file a patent.

    If a patent is actually granted for this that has any value at all I would be extremely surprised.

    The basic idea of using an airless sprayer on a tethered multicopter is excellent, this particular example is not.

    Best regards,


  • Maybe I'd call that proof of concept..... 
    I have serious doubts what is in that video can successfully paint a small building w/out making a huge mess and wasting a lot of material. 

    Lets see it making autonomous smooth passes, straight lines of paint along a wall, proper overlap between lines, etc. 

    These things sort of make me mad..... "look 'ma..  I duck taped my cheap paint sprayer to my drone and got Hank to stand off camera and fly it, and the goberment gave me a patent"

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