In our previous article Towards dent measurement by Drone we discussed a frequently asked question: “Can you measure dents?”.

Today we revisit to conclusively answer this question. Our findings are the result of an exploratory 18-month collaborative project involving 8tree, Dassault and the Agence de l’innovation de defence (French Defence Innovation Agency) to improve aircraft MOC (Maintenance and operational condition). So what’s the net summary? We were able to achieve automatic drone-based dent-inspection of an entire Rafale fighter jet within just one hour.

The exploration program focuses on the development of an integrated solution comprising – dentCHECK, 8tree’s 3D dent-mapping technology onboard of a Donecle drone, allowing an automatic inspection of aircraft surfaces.
Within the framework of this project, the Rafale military aircraft was chosen to prove-out and demonstrate drone-based automatic damage inspection. This project had three main objectives:

  • Efficiency: the drone can inspect an entire aircraft body quickly and easily, providing time savings
  • Repeatability and reliability: the 3D structured light scanner provides consistent results in all conditions
  • Detection of multiple defects: the 3D scanner and associated software can identify and measure damages such as dents, impacts, misalignments, etc…

With the drone-based 3D scanner – the flying dentCHECK – we can detect dents on multiple aircraft types, on metal and composite surfaces, with precise and automatic depth and size detection.
Our work has been articulated on a specific path for dent inspection: detection, characterization, digital continuity and traceability. This roadmap has led to two primary developments:

  • Acquiring high quality data: We improved our drone automatic navigation with advanced stability algorithms and novel management of the onboard 3D sensor to address the dynamic work space conditions (lighting, surface color and type, …)
  • Dent detection, classification and localization: the dents are mapped on a 3D digital twin of the Rafale. Global reconstruction algorithms are used to perform an automated diagnosis leading to instantly actionable results.

These steps allow us to build traceability thanks to the data acquisition. All acquired information, such as scans, localization information and dent measurement results, are saved in a digital database. This digital history will help tracking the structure evolution in the time to improve the aircraft availability and safety.

To validate our investigation, we have been hosted on French military bases, such as the base 118 in Mont-de-Marsan to perform several series of tests on Rafale aircraft. As the result of this project, we have been able to validate the technology by performing an automated dent measurement of a Rafale aircraft in one hour and an accuracy of 0.1mm depth and 2mm width.

In June and July, we demonstrated our results and study path of the MCO project to a group of experts at the AID (French Defence Innovation Agency) in Mont-de-Marsan and at the Innovation Defence Lab in Paris.

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