Swiss-based drone-maker Flyability’s Elios 3 drone is considered the world’s first collision-tolerant drone equipped with a LiDAR sensor for indoor 3D mapping. It was released back in May 2022, confirming our suspicions shared to Twitter.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Flyability Elios 3 drone:
Flyability Elios 3: a mapping powerhouse with a SLAM engine
The drone relies on a SLAM engine, which is short for Simultaneous Localization and Mapping — and it’s a requirement for robots (including drones) to be able to explore and understand environments. The Elios 3’s new SLAM engine is called FlyAware, and it can generate 3D models through a new software called Inspector 4.0.
The new Elios 3 taps into the inspection side of the drone industry, which was the No. 1 most common use for drones in 2021. This version of Elios improves upon the old Elios 2 — though this version has been in development for four years, enabling engineers thousands of hours to research and conduct more than 200 missions in the field to collect feedback, learn what clients want, and refine the technology.
And like the Elios 2, this one differentiates itself from all the other mapping and inspection drones on the market by being what the company calls “collision-tolerant.” The lawyers likely won’t let it be called entirely crash-proof, but the drone includes the company’s signature cage and unique reversing motors. Flyability even says it can recover from flipping upside-down without crashing. Its also P-44 compliant design, which is a rating to show it can fly in rugged, harsh environments without concerns of water splashes or dust.
That makes the drone an ideal tool for mapping areas that are out of reach or too dangerous for humans to enter, like sewers or caves.
Among the other highlights of the Elios 3:
- An Ouster OSO-32 LiDAR sensor
- A modular payload (in addition to the LiDAR sensor payload)
- High-quality image stabilization
- Ability to create 3D models in real time while in flight
Of those specs, one of the most standout is that Ouster OS0-32 LiDAR sensor. With it, inspectors can collect data to generate survey-grade 3D models using software from Flyability’s new partner, GeoSLAM. With GeoSLAM, inspectors can make survey-grade point clouds of the areas drones are flying in.
The ability to create 3D models in real time while in flight is also pretty neat, and is done through The Elios 3 is powered by Flyability’s new proprietary SLAM engine called FlyAware. Besides making 3D models, Flyaway is also the technology behind the drone’s unique stability. By ingesting data from the drone’s three optical cameras plus LiDAR sensor, it can calculate and account for tiny, unpredictable movements that were previously impossible to account for.
And while the drone itself is pretty high-end, it’s relatively easy to operate, even for newbie pilots. Flability says that most pilots can be trained and conduct their own inspection all within a day.
A new surveying payload with FARO Technologies
In October 2023, Flyability gave its Elios 3 drone a huge update by way of its new Surveying Payload, launched in partnership with FARO Technologies. The new payload enables centimeter accurate LiDAR scans with the Elios 3 and is of particular interest to those working in surveying, mining, and wastewater management.
Called the Ouster OS0-128 Rev 7, it’s designed to enable safe, centimeter-accurate scans of
hard-to-reach areas. The new LiDAR payload for the Elios 3 is considered an alternative to the existing Ouster OS0-32 Rev 6.2, and it’s key differentiator is the ability to deliver survey-grade results in hard-to-reach, inaccessible spaces given its wider range, higher point density, and improved photon sensitivity.
It claims to offer volumetric measurements that are accurate to within 1% of terrestrial laser scans, distance measurements with centimeter precision, and more detailed point clouds with sharper definition.
And when you buy the payload, you also get a bundle including training, reflective
targets, and specialized processing software, FARO Connect. That FARO Connect software has SLAM
(Simultaneous Localization and Mapping) presets that are optimized for data gathered with the
As part of the May 2022 launch, Flyability posted a pretty neat 3D fly-through on its YouTube channel of a no go zone in a decommissioned nuclear power plant created using LiDAR data collected by the Elios 3. Here it is:
Flyability came onto the scene in 2016, also with an inspection drone designed to thrive in confined spaces. Since then, the company’s drones have been used to conduct missions ranging from sewer inspections to visual inspections of a beer factory.
Flyability’s headquarters are in Paudex, Lausanne, though it also has offices in China, Singapore, and the U.S.
Flyability dropped a blog post providing a bit more insight into the making of the Elios 3 drone, which you can check out here.