Utility Robots Now Highly Skilled

An article in the EPRI Journal describes several robots being used for nondestructive evaluation, collecting data on light intensity, and inspecting transmission lines.

Robots now are doing some of the difficult jobs that used to be done by human workers at U.S. utility companies, according to an article published in the Winter 2011 issue of the EPRI Journal. The author, Ucilia Wang, consulted Andrew Phillips, technical director of transmission and substations in the Electric Power Research Institute’s Power Delivery and Utilization Sector, and Maria Guimaraes, a project manager in EPRI's Nuclear Sector, for her account of several ongoing R&D projects to develop highly useful robots.

One project is refining a prototype named Ti so it can be placed permanently on a transmission network and travel as far as 40 miles on a power line in four months' time, identifying right-of-way encroachments, spotting vegetation that may threaten the line's performance, and detecting any problem with the line's components, Wang writes.

She reports EPRI also is designing a robot to inspect large concrete structures such as cooling towers, hydroelectric dams, and nuclear power containment units. This robot will be about to traverse curved concrete walls, withstand outdoor use, and have a battery life of 3-4 days, according to the article. Best of all, it safely eliminates the current need to erect and then move scaffolding so workers can access elevated areas to inspect them, Guimaraes said.

One other application described in the article is a "snake" robot that can crawl around in tight spaces, such as the tubes in a heat recovery steam generator. They are closely bundled and difficult to inspect, she writes, adding that EPRI is working with Carnegie Mellon University to make this robot more agile, faster, and better at performing this type of nondestructive evaluation.

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