In a paper entitled “Nailed It: Automonous Roofing with a Nailgun-Equipped Octocopter”, University of Michigan Engineering students sought to demonstrate the possibility of drones nailing down shingles on a roof without requiring a human operator.
In order to accomplish this, the graduate students broke down the overall task of nailing down shingles into several smaller tasks such as telling the octocopter where the nails should go and triggering the nailgun.
The students selected an off the shelf nailgun which was customized so that a digital switch would cause it to fire instead of the trigger. The safety mechanism requiring compression of the nail gun’s tip remained, so the team identified the force required to compress the safety and then wrote that into the software so that the drone would apply enough pressure to allow the digital switch to fire the nailgun in the correct spot.
Using a network of markers and cameras the drone was able to locate itself in space and navigate to where the nails should go. The team says that this program is probably far more than would be needed, but was designed for drone use with more complex tasks. They said that because shingles have shiny adhesive strips and color differences from the layer beneath that drones would be able to use these differences to correctly orient themselves to activate the nail gun.
In a video posted on YouTube, it is clear that the drone moves deliberately and requires the shingles to already be in position, however that didn’t stop the students and professors from expressing optimism at the possibilities for the future. Ella Atkins the professor behind the demonstration said, “For me, the biggest excitement of this work is in recognizing that autonomous, useful, physical interaction and construction tasks are possible with drones.”