Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Škoda develops drone for detecting and counting containers

Steve Rogerson
December 11, 2018

An autonomous drone is assisting with stocktaking by detecting and counting containers in a collaboration between car maker Škoda and Czech drone specialists Robodrone.
Lidar technology is being used to measure distance and speed accurately.
Škoda says it is pressing ahead with the implementation of technologies in line with Industry 4.0 principles at its Mladá Boleslav plant. The Czech car manufacturer is testing a drone that can identify and count containers outside the factory from the air.
The drone is a result of collaboration between Škoda’s logistics department and Robodrone, and is paving the way to implementing drone-assisted stocktaking in everyday operations in future.
“We are continuously working on improving the efficiency of our everyday production processes and making work easier for our employees,” said Michael Oeljeklaus, Škoda Auto board member. “Drones assist with and speed up the stocktaking process. As a key pillar of our 2025 strategy, such processes will take place completely automatically in everyday operations in future.”
With its six rotors, the drone based on Robodrone’s Kingfisher model can fly up to 20km/h and can carry a load of up to 5kg. During the current testing phase, it autonomously records the number of empty containers outside a factory hall in Mladá Boleslav three times per day. The data are then automatically transferred to the IT systems at Škoda’s logistics department, where they can be processed.
As GPS is not precise enough to determine the locations of the containers, the drone is equipped with lidar technology to measure speed and distance. A lidar sensor captures up to 300,000 images per second. The drone navigates using a 3D map, which is created based on this technology. Simultaneously it detects and counts the equipment containers all thanks to algorithms.
Up until now, this kind of technology was not available on the market. Škoda therefore developed the algorithms specifically for this application in collaboration with Robodrone. In total, the car manufacturer invested around €200,000 in this technology.
Test operations have been running since May. In the medium term, the drone will be seamlessly integrated into regular operations. In the second development phase, the Kingfisher will get its own nest: the battery-powered device will then be able to navigate autonomously to a charging station. This will also be equipped with a weather station that will provide the drone with information about the weather at short notice.