Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL) has completed a successful demonstration test using a flying drone to conduct an autonomous inspection of the enclosed hold of an MOL-operated coal carrier.
The Japanese-made drone was operated in partnership with Autonomous Control Systems Laboratory (ACSL) and used LiDAR SLAM technology to estimate its own position in holds with the hatch cover closed.
Industrial drones typically detect position information by receiving Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals, like GPS. However, GNSS radio frequencies cannot be accessed in some enclosed spaces, such as inside cargo holds with hatch covers closed, so they are usually operated manually onboard by a pilot.
The use of LiDAR technology for positioning instead of GNSS during the MOL tests overcame this issue, and allowed the drone to operate autonomously in those enclosed spaces.
The test project also included the installation of a wired connection via optical fibre cabling to link with the drone and feed back operational information as well as inspection images using a high-resolution camera.
MOL says that it intends to continue working with ACSL to develop further applications for drones for use in other inspection situations, such as ballast tanks and other types of holds.