Robotic Water Pipes Inspectors

Pipe cleaning is a tedious job, but somebody’s gotta do it, why not a robot? The European Union TRACT project is developing a propeller driven robot to do a human’s dirty work.pipe2

Most robots that perform internal water pipe inspections move along rubber tires or treads which scrape the insides of the pipe which leads to rust coming out of people’s taps.  In order to reduce the amount of rust particles entering the water, the unit must have only minimal contact with the pipe walls.  This problem is being resolved with this new robot.  The current 3D printed prototype was created by Norway’s SINTEF research group along with Breivoll Inspection Technologies and industrial design firm Inventas.

A long, torpedo like and propeller driven robot is guided through the water and district heating pipe systems.  It is equipped with 64 large ultrasound transducers which transmit and receive ultrasound signals.  It collects data which is used to calculate the thickness and level of corrosion in pipes.pipe1

“What we’re doing here is quite unique’’, says Gorm Johansen at SINTEF.  Johansen, together with the industrial design firm, Inventas, is responsible for the development and mechanical design of the robot.  Inventas has divided the project into several parts.  It has built a 3D print model which has been tested in a pipe filled with water.  It will also be able to tackle junctions at angles of up to 90 degrees.  It has an articulated segmented body, with propellers located at either end.  While those props provide the power to move it, spring-loaded fins on its body lightly brush against the inside of the pipe, just to keep the bulk of the robot from contacting it.

“Inspections of this kind are among the most difficult operations we have to carry out in the water distribution sector, but we expect that the concept being developed today will be able resolve some of the problems we have yet to tackle,” says Lars Brenna at Breivoll.  “In Norway, poor quality water pipes are responsible for drinking water losses of between 30 and 40 percent, so it’s essential that we come up with innovative solutions.”  Since this problem is universal, Breivoll as a company is also aiming to develop a global market for the TRACT concept.  The TRACT project started last December and will finish up next year.

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