Local businesses use drones to scan North Dakota Museum of Modern Art
Dunleavy, founder of drone services company SkySkopes and Tau Drones, was on the UND campus on Tuesday, November 23 to conduct an energy audit of the venerable building. Along with Karthik Balaji, head of product development for Tau, and Nick Wamre, chief drone test pilot for Mobile Recon Systems, the trio scanned the exterior of the building for energy leaks.
“To have the North Dakota Museum of Art flown by drones which are themselves works of art, I think that’s really appropriate,” Dunleavy said.
The Museum of Art is a suitable candidate for a heat loss assessment. The building was constructed in 1907 and was used as the UND gymnasium.
It was a joint effort between the companies, as well as the University of North Dakota system and the UND College of Engineering. Tau Drones owns the intellectual property to analyze the data collected by the drone, which is manufactured by Mobile Recon Systems. The drone uses a thermal camera capable of detecting heat loss to scan the building. Once analyzed, this data will be transmitted to the UND, and the teams can then take measures to better alter the building.
The project represents an important step in the commercialization of the technology, in terms of artificial intelligence programs used to collect the data and then analyze it. Test and research flights have taken place on most campuses in the North Dakota college system, Dunleavy said. The idea of trying to quantify heat loss as a function of money spent on energy sprouted five years ago. He is eager to put the technology into practice.
“We fly a drone around a building and we tell people what needs to be fixed because that is how much money they are losing,” he said.
On Tuesday, UND graduate Wamre was piloting the drone manually, but the company has artificial intelligence software that can use waypoints to determine a flight pattern. Once these waypoints have been entered by the operator, the drone could then automatically scan a building.
At Tau Drones, the company uses artificial intelligence to combine thermodynamics and data analysis to get a sense of where the heat loss is coming from and how much it costs. Balaji said the immediate goal was to scan the exterior of a building, although future applications could use an autonomous ground vehicle, much like a radio-controlled car, to scan the interior of a building.
“We want to go further and we want to automate the whole energy assessment process as a whole,” said Balaji, a former UND researcher.
Dunleavy called the Mobile Recon Systems drone an “American bird (with) American muscle.” The company specializes in drones that can carry heavier payloads. He said he was happy to use drones and sensors designed in the country, which are in use on a US campus.
In addition to creating commercial use for drones and artificial intelligence software, Dunleavy said Tuesday’s work also had the “feel-good” factor of potentially protecting museum content.
“It’s good to do that, at the Art Museum,” he said. “We want to protect art.