In a very short article, Popular Science reports that researchers at the University of Washington have built a robotic cable inspection system. This system should help utility companies to maintain their networks of subterranean cables. The robot, dubbed Cruiser, is about 4-feet-long and is designed like a snake. When it detects an anomaly on an underground cable, it sends a message to a human operator via Wi-Fi. The first field tests took place in New Orleans in December 2006. But a commercial version should not be available before 2012.
This robotic system has been created at the University of Washington's Sensors, Energy, and Automation Laboratory (SEAL). You can see above a prototype of the system working in the University of Washington tunnels (Credit: SEAL).
And the above image shows the system in action during a real field test in New Orleans, inspecting the cables damaged by the Katrina hurricane (Credit: SEAL). This picture was extracted from a movie available from this page which contains other images and videos.
- Mechanical design: The robotic platform consists of two modular segments coupled by a freely rotating joint. Additional segments may be added when functionality evolves. The platform is height constrained by the tunnel environment, and consequently has a very low profile design. The front and rear modules contain hourglass shaped wheels with 12V DC motors to propel the platform along the cable.
- Distributed control: The control board consists of three Atmel micro-controllers. Each has specific functions related to the robot's operation, which greatly increases the performance of the robot. The control system coordinates the collection of data, communications, movements and autonomous functionality.
- Distributed signal-processing: In order to solve the problem of allocation between local and remote signal processing, the digital signal processor (DSP) board is introduced into the local robot system. The high performance of the DSP board collaborating with a 14 bits, 8MSPS analog-to-digital converter makes the local preliminary signal processing possible. An algorithm to sample and analyze data from the acoustic sensor is implemented to detect partial discharges.
For more information, you can read a paper which was published in the Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Advanced Robotics in 2005, "Autonomous robotic monitoring of underground cable systems" (PDF format, 7 pages).
Sources: Eric Mika, Popular Science, May 2007; and various websites
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