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Airocam, a camera in a pneumatic tube carrier

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From Pneumatic Tube Systems to tomato cultivation. The flying camera from the Science Museum Delft in the Netherlands gets a new application with Biggreen.

'The original idea came about during a brainstorming session,' says industrial designer Dries Calcoen of the start-up Airocam. 'A Dutch installer of pneumatic tube systems expected a shrinking market and asked the TU if they could come up with new applications. A group of technical designers started working on it. Then we thought: if we start using transparent tubes and put in a camera in the carrier. That was the start of the company.'

With the Pneumatic Tube, where they shoot special capsules with air pressure through tubes, Banks or groceries stores like Albert Heijn send per example bills fast to a central register, or hospital test from the departments through the lab.

‘With an electrical engineer, a computer scientist we tinkered together a levitating pneumatic tube camera for the Science Museum. Rather quickly it turned out that the most difficult thing was to stabilize the camera. That’s why we build in a high-end motion sensor. The motion sensor navigated the turning element, which works the same as the stabilizer of helicopter wicks. In the Science Museum you can now lead the camera to the sights with a joystick.’

One thing led to another. Because the data of the motion sensor in the camera flying around turned out to be of value. Hospitals send tubes of blood from their departments to the central lab using pneumatic tubes, it is unclear if the blood stays undamaged. ‘We analyzed the levels of potassium and LDH of a blood sample with and without using the Pneumatic Tubes. It turned out that the results sometimes varied with 40 percent.’ Aircocam started to deliver detailed information about in which curves during the transport has the highest G-force. ‘We are now visiting all hospitals. They can improve their Pneumatic Tube Systems.’

Whilst the company made their first money doing this, the plan to use Pneumatic Tubes in greenhouses to monitor individual plants arose. ‘A crop advisor is never able to check on every plant out of the 20.000 or 30.000 plants in a greenhouse. He does sampling. With our camera you can check each and every one of them.’ Although rails or self-driving robot arms can check each plant, the Pneumatic Tubes System has the advantage that it’s a closed system. ‘The current greenhouses are practically clean rooms,’ Calcoen states,’ a self-driving robot could contaminate an entire greenhouse with mold.’

In the demo nursery Westland the engineers succeeded to precisely determine on which moment the tomato plant stops growing in height and starts making tomatoes with a camera. ‘To get the right flavor, you can start feeding a plant differently. The change is viewable on the top leaf to a very specific color green. For that color detection we need to work with a faveon-sensor instead of a CMOS-chip. Right now we want to show that a tomato grower can improve it’s productivity with a 5 to 6 percent. It could deliver them roughly 50.000 to 60.000 euros annually per hectare. We are now discussing to put in different sensors as well. With infrared camera’s per example you can also create an overview of heat waves in the greenhouses.’

Press release by: Dries Calcoen / Written by Henk Klomp of the Technisch Weekblad / Translated by Loes Tjassens.
More information at: Vimeo video

Video of the first test of the Airocam camera system in the Delft Science Centre.


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Airocam, a camera in a pneumatic tube carrier

  Last updated: 17-02-2020


Airocam, a camera in a pneumatic tube carrier


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