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ROBINSPECT project developing a tunnel-inspecting robot

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November 18, 2013

The proposed ROBINSPECT robot

The proposed ROBINSPECT robot

For anyone who worries about being caught in a cave-in, you'll be glad to know that tunnels such as those found in subways or mountain roads are regularly checked for structural degradation. These tests are typically performed using the naked human eye, and require the tunnel to be closed to use for as long as the process takes. With this in mind, the European Union ROBINSPECT program is now developing a robotic tunnel inspection system, that should be both quicker and more thorough than human inspectors.

At the heart of the system will be a semi-autonomous robotic unit, consisting of a small unmanned vehicle with a crane mounted on top of it. On the end of that crane will be a robotic arm, containing multiple sensors.

The whole setup will move down the length of a subway, motorway or other tunnel, conducting a complete inspection in one pass. Along with cracks, faults such as rust stains, corrosion, and exposed reinforcements will also be sought out.

At a rate of about one meter per second, the robot will use its computer vision system to rapidly acquire rough 2D images of every inch of that tunnel's walls. When cracks meeting certain minimum criteria appear in those images, the robot will proceed to stop and obtain more detailed 3D images. At this point, ultrasound and lasers will also be used, to ascertain the exact width and depth of the cracks.

Human operators will still be able to remotely issue basic commands such as Advance and Stop, although the robot itself will be able to "learn" both from its own findings, and from accessing an online database compiled by human tunnel inspectors. This will allow it to notify its operators, when it does come across flaws that need attention.

It is hoped that when the three-year project is completed, the finished robot will result in increased safety (both for tunnel users and inspectors), shorter tunnel-inspection closure times, and financial savings as less human workers will need to be paid, and for less hours.

A working prototype is expected to be ready by next year, at which point it will be tested in the London underground, three underground stretches of the Egnatia highway in Greece, and some experimental tunnels in Switzerland.

Sources: ROBINSPECT, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
3 Comments

Interesting robot but I didn't really didn't really get an idea about whether it's being directed by an operator or whether it's on auto. Also, I would have been interested to read about how it detects cracks and other defects as this is the real innovation, the rest is just a robot with a camera.

The speed of the robot seems to be a bit exaggerated. Moving at 1 meter per second is 360kmh ..... seems a bit fast for the unit in the image.

clickNow
18th November, 2013 @ 04:28 pm PST

@clickNow

1 meter per second is 3.6km/h... a bit slower than normal walking.

Christopher Bimrose
18th November, 2013 @ 07:48 pm PST

There are similar units used to inspect roadways, and are attached to the front of a moving vehicle. Their benefit being that the surface being inspected is one lane wide and flat. A larger, curved surface would necessarily take a longer time with slower speeds. Nice feature to do a 2D scan and then pause for 3D only when needed. And then to have a scan history that can be reviewed whenever necessary is quite a plus.

Bruce H. Anderson
20th November, 2013 @ 07:57 am PST
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