Spider-like “Robotic Crawler” Checks Concrete
Able to scale (and evaluate) building in a single bound.
By Robotics Trends News Sources - Filed Sep 04, 2013

The New York Power Authority’s Niagara Hydroelectric Power Plant served as the venue this summer for the demonstration of robotic equipment whose widespread utility application would contribute to the power industry’s efforts to advance the operational performance and longevity of generating facilities.

The Electric Power Research Institute demonstrated the capabilities of advanced inspection techniques of concrete structures, including the deployment of a robotic crawler.

The demonstration, which took place along the vertical exterior of the main generating facility at the Niagara plant, is part of broader research the institute is conducting on concrete aging, a critical issue at generating plants across the country. A nonprofit organization funded by the electric utility industry, the Electric Power Research Institute brings together combined resources from U.S. utilities to conduct research and development in support of efficient generation, delivery and use of electricity for the benefit of the public.

NYPA engineers and researchers from each of the participating organizations are evaluating the performance of the robotic crawler, which incorporates sound wave technologies in the evaluation of concrete conditions.

“When this technology has been perfected, it will eliminate the need for potentially dangerous and difficult rappelling and scaffolding in the performance of routine structural evaluations,” said George F. Wong, a senior civil engineer with NYPA.

Instead of designing and building a new robot, the institute team reviewed commercially available devices. The device best-suited to the job was determined to be the robotic crawler, roughly the size of an electric lawnmower, designed by ICM, which is an  Ithaca company. 

The crawler, which is controlled remotely, adheres to vertical surfaces using vacuum suction and can carry up to 44 pounds. It applies on-board systems, including simultaneous localization and mapping technology and advanced instrumentation developed for concrete applications, to conduct automated, high-precision inspections and to capture computer-encoded data and images for maintenance decision-making.

“We are in the initial phase of testing, but this device shows great potential for advancing the industry’s concrete inspection process,” said Maria Guimaraes, an institute project manager who directs the research project. “By the end of the year we’d like the data that can be collected by this robot to provide a real-time, accurate assessment of the conditions and integrity of concrete.”

Updates on the crawler can be found at: www.epri.com.

Last week's test was done in collaboration with NYPA, American Electric Power, Exelon, the Southwest Research Institute, International Climbing Machines, the University of Texas at Austin and Rutgers University.

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