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.