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52 unmanned systems inside December 2016/January 2017 AIR NEW MARKETS said. "There are about 1 million power trans- mission towers. Most of them need coatings, and there's a huge backlog of deferred mainte- nance. Robotic systems could help catch up on this dangerous work." There are many other potential applications for Apellix besides painting. "We can use compressed air to clean solar panels, or imagine window-washing skyscrap- ers," Dahlstrom said. In addition, "Italian en- ergy companies are now contemplating put- ting a superhydrophobic coating on the blades of wind turbines to keep them clean longer and reduce wind resistance, but it's a nanoparticle, and to protect yourself, you need a full suit and air hose. Now imagine wearing that while rap- pelling down from the center of a wind turbine with a spray gun. Instead, f ly in a drone." Painter Bots In addition to aerial painting devices, research- ers are developing ground-based painting robots. A machine known as PictoBot from Singapore is aimed at spray-painting the interiors of indus- trial buildings there, painting walls up to three stories high with its robotic arm. Industrial buildings often possess high ceil- ings to accommodate bulky industrial equip- ment and materials. Painting their interiors requires at least two people—one in a safety harness and one operating the lift. As with Apellix, one of the main benefits of the PictoBot is safety, its developers said. In tests, the 1.5 ton robot also "takes about 25 percent less time than humans at painting, and the painting is very precise," said I-Ming Chen, "DRONES MAY PAINT curved shapes, like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel." Paul Kry, associate professor, McGill University's School of Computer Science director of Nanyang Technological Univer- sity's Robotics Research Center in Singapore. It only requires one human supervisor, "and one supervisor can supervise more than one machine," Chen said. "It can also run without light for 24-hour operation." PictoBot consists of a mobile base that has a robot arm mounted on an elevatable platform. At the end of the arm is a spray nozzle, an op- tical camera that scans the workspace to cal- culate the trajectory of the paint, and laser and ultrasound sensors for navigation, range-find- ing and obstacle avoidance. The robot and its 2,000-psi air compressor can work four hours on one charge of its rechargeable lead-acid bat- tery, and its paint tanks can hold 120 liters. It can navigate on the ground and paint autono- mously without human intervention. "There are huge advantages to being on the ground—you don't have to worry about grav- ity," Dahlstrom said. "However, if you're on the ground, you're also restricted as to how high you can go." PictoBot was developed in a year by scien- tists from Nanyang Technological University in cooperation with JTC Corporation, Singa- pore's principal developer of infrastructure, as well as Singaporean startup Aitech Robotics and Automation. "Singapore is very small, and we have a shortage of skilled workers, so this was a proj- ect to see what kind of innovative applications we can use given our workforce constraints," Chen said. One challenge Chen and his colleagues faced while working on PictoBot is how it can some- Photos courtesy of Paul Kry et al.., McGill University Scientists in Canada took a photo of Grace Kelly (middle left), created a digital version of this photo made of black dots (middle right), and used a quadrocopter drone equipped with an ink-soaked sponge (far left) to paint this digital image on a sheet of paper (far right).