Elios 3 drone

Elios 3 marks Flyability’s first collision-tolerant drone with a LiDAR sensor

Swiss-based drone-maker Flyability’s Elios 3 drone is considered the world’s first collision-tolerant drone. It’s equipped with a LiDAR sensor for indoor 3D mapping — and there are multiple other powerful payloads, including a UTM sensor and a surveying payloads. Released back in May 2022, it confirmed our suspicions shared to Twitter.

And now it’s here. So with that, 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. SLAM is all but a requirement for robots (including drones) to be able to explore and understand environments. The Elios 3’s new SLAM engine is called FlyAware. FlyAware can generate 3D models through a new software called Inspector 4.0.

Elios 3 drone flyability
Photo courtesy of Flyability

The new Elios 3 taps into the inspection side of the drone industry. Alas, inspections were 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, engineers spent thousands of hours researching and conducting more than 200 missions in the field. With that, they collected feedback, learned what clients want, and refined 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. All that, 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.

Elios 3 drone flyability
Photo courtesy of Flyability

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. It’s all 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.

Elios 3 drone flyability
Photo courtesy of Flyability

And while the drone itself is pretty high-end, it’s relatively easy to operate, even for newbie pilots. In fact, Flyability says that most pilots learn how to fly and conduct their own inspection all within a day.

A new surveying payload with FARO Technologies

Ouster OS0-128 Rev 7 Surveying Payload from Flyability
Photo courtesy of Flyability

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 enables safe, centimeter-accurate scans of
hard-to-reach areas. Alas, the new LiDAR payload for the Elios 3 is considered an alternative to the existing Ouster OS0-32 Rev 6.2. 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
Elios 3.

An ultrasonic thickness measurement (UTM) payload

An ultrasonic thickness measurement (UTM) payload

That’s not the only unique payload to come out of the Elios 3 drone. In March 2024, Flyability launched an ultrasonic thickness measurement payload. It’s abbreviated as UTM, though it’s not that kind of UTM.

Developed in partnership with ultrasonic testing (UT) technology company Cygnus Instruments, it’s designed to conducted spot thickness measurements of steel. You might use the live A-scan UT payload in all sorts of steel places. That includes ship hulls, inside tanks and between pipe ranks. With that comes a safer means of accessing thickness measurement locations (TMLs). It’s all particularly notable because the Elios 3 has already stood out as a powerful drone in being able to enter confined spaces.

So how does this payload work? It’s an ultrasonic probe. Then, you’ll mount the probe on a smart arm featuring a laser pointer that provides visual guidance to aim at measurement points. From there, a remotely operated couplant dispenser ensures optimal ultrasound transmission to the material under test.

“Now we can offer a reliable, safe, and effective UTM alternative for places unreachable with scaffolding, crawlers, or cherry pickers,” said Patrick Thévoz, CEO and co-founder of Flyability.
Quality and standard compliance have been central to this payload’s

About Flyability

As part of the May 2022 launch, Flyability posted a pretty neat 3D fly-through on its YouTube channel. There, you see 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 has used its drones 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. Check it out here.

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