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The drone from this Penn spinout can fly inside mines without maps or GPS

Next week, a drone from Exyn Technologies will swoop around inside a Latin American mine using sensors to orient itself. No GPS or maps needed.

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A Grays Ferry-based drone startup called Exyn Technologies is sending its drone underground next week to scour the walls of a Latin American mine guided only by its onboard sensors.

With no pre-loaded maps or a GPS signal, the drone will gather data that will let the University of Pennsylvania spinout build 3D models of the mine’s structure and spot possible safety risks guided by the company’s exynAI software.

“The best way to characterize this if we were blindfolded and were told not to remove the blinfdold,” said CEO Nader Elm. “In the absence of GPS, it has to perceive its environment by using different sensors and building maps of the environment and its relationship to that  environment.”

With onboard accelerometers, gravitometers, cameras and MiDAR technology, the drone is able to orient itself inside the indoor environment without the need of outside guidance.

Here’s a quick demo of how the technology works:

Current mining operations perform surveying on the structure of the mines but Elm says current technology only lets operators have access to coarse 2D models.

“We can enable much higher detail and fidelity with 3D models,” said Elm. “And because it’s a robot, it’s much more cost effective to do it frequently.”

For the project in a Latin American mine — the CEO declined to disclose where the mine was located — the company will deploy a team to operate the technology, but the longterm objective is to turn the mapping offering into a standalone product that can be shipped to mines and used by mining companies themselves.

Future use cases for the tech include scanning of inventories inside retail warehouses and tracking of projects for the construction industry.

The startup, founded in 2014, is a spinout of Penn’s GRASP Lab and was cofounded by Penn’s Dean of Engineering, Vijay Kumar, who is listed as Exyn Technologies’ Chief Science Advisor. Located about mile away from the Pennovation Center — home to a cluster of companies in the robotics space — Exyn Technologies employs a staff of 16 and has raised several million dollars in early stage funding.

“That’s an advantage we have: the research, talent and the relationship with the university,” Elm said. “We have 77 years of robotics experience in our existing team.”

By Roberto Torres / technical.ly/philly