Carnegie Mellon develops robot that successfully explored gas mains in NY

August 04, 2004

PITTSBURGH--Carnegie Mellon University robotics researchers, in conjunction with the Northeast Gas Association (NGA), the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) of the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA, have developed a remote-controlled, untethered, wireless prototype crawling robot, designed to inspect underground gas mains.

Consolidated Edison Co. of New York (Con Edison) recently supported the first deployment of the robot in Yonkers, N.Y., where it successfully inspected hundreds of feet of 8-inch-diameter, live, cast-iron gas main sections originally installed in 1890.

The robot, known as ExplorerTM, is segmented like a link sausage with front- and rear-fisheye cameras and lights. It has the ability to interact with a remote operator via wireless communication while it's inside a pipe. It can relay near real-time images of a pipe's interior, as well as other data, back to the operator who controls and views it from a street-side control van at the excavation site. Explorer can travel great distances from its point of entry into the pipeline. Its travel range is exclusively determined by its wireless communication range and battery power.

Explorer was developed by Hagen Schempf, a principal systems scientist in Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute, in conjunction with his engineering team in the institute's Hazardous Environments Robotics Laboratory (HERL) at the National Robotics Engineering Consortium. "This kind of remote inspection technology is truly enabling and will change the face of infrastructure maintenance," said Schempf. "It is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using high-tech wireless inspection devices in areas traditionally thought to be inaccessible to human beings. The implications to potential cost-savings for preventative maintenance, inspection and emergency response should not be overlooked by any utility that has to manage its underground infrastructure."

The Explorer project has been jointly funded by the research and development committee of NGA and DoE's NETL's Strategic Center for Natural Gas Infrastructure in Morgantown, W.Va., with kick-off seed funding from NASA and NGA. The system has been under development for more than three years and has been rigorously tested in a variety of pipe-environments.

"Because it is untethered and has the capability to make 90-degree turns in elbows and tees, Explorer will allow us to inspect live 6- and 8-inch gas mains for much longer distances from one excavation/entry point than the conventional push-rod cameras currently used," said George Vradis, project manager for NGA.

"The field trials with Gas Explorer were the world's first for an untethered, visual inspection camera robot in a live gas main," said Phil Fowles, senior engineer at Con Edison. "This will significantly reduce our costs per foot of pipe inspected, especially in the all-too-common situation where multiple excavations are presently needed to locate the point of water intrusion into our low-pressure, cast-iron system."

"This robotic inspection platform represents a technology for assuring the integrity and reliability of natural gas pipelines in the future," added Rodney J. Anderson, technology manager, natural gas delivery reliability storage, at DoE's National Energy Technology Laboratory. "When integrated with next-generation advanced sensors, the Explorer concept will allow accurate, high-resolution inspections of all natural gas pipelines, including those that are currently unpiggable."

The system is currently targeted at 6- to 8-inch distribution mains, the norm in many urban areas. It is intended for long-range camera inspections from a single excavation and represents a cost-reduction over other camera systems that currently require a new excavation every 100 to 200 feet. Explorer can inspect hundreds of feet from one excavation point. Researchers are applying for a patent on the technology.

"We believe this to be the beginning of a new technology application arena for robotics and wireless communications," said Schempf. "It just happens to be inside a pipe, underground and out of sight. This kind of technology will be essential in years to come to control costs in utility operating budgets and may even expand to other applications outside of gas distribution." For more information on the gas explorer see:

Carnegie Mellon University

Related Robotics Articles from Brightsurf:

Borrowing from robotics, scientists automate mapping of quantum systems
Riddhi Gupta has taken an algorithm used for autonomous vehicles and adapted it to help characterise and stabilise quantum technology.

COVID-19 should be wake-up call for robotics research
Robots could perform some of the 'dull, dirty and dangerous' jobs associated with combating the COVID-19 pandemic, but that would require many new capabilities not currently being funded or developed, an editorial in the journal Science Robotics argues.

How robots can help combat COVID-19: Science Robotics editorial
Can robots be effective tools in combating the COVID-19 pandemic?

Novel use of robotics for neuroendovascular procedures
The advanced technology has the potential to change acute stroke treatment.

Robotics: Teaming for future soldier combat
The US Army's investment for the 10 year, Army-led foundational research program has resulted in advanced science in four critical areas of ground combat robotics that affect the way US Warfighters see, think, move and team.

New haptic arm places robotics within easy reach
Imagine being able to build and use a robotic device without the need for expensive, specialist kit or skills.

AI-guided robotics enable automation of complex synthetic biological molecules
This article describes a platform that combines artificial intelligence-driven synthesis planning, flow chemistry and a robotically controlled experimental platform to minimize the need for human intervention in the synthesis of small organic molecules.

A step forward in wearable robotics: Exosuit assists with both walking and running
A soft robotic exosuit -- worn like a pair of shorts -- can make both walking and running easier for the wearer, a new study reports.

A first in medical robotics: Autonomous navigation inside the body
Bioengineers at Boston Children's Hospital report the first demonstration of a robot able to navigate autonomously inside the body.

Engineers build a soft robotics perception system inspired by humans
An international team of researchers has developed a perception system for soft robots inspired by the way humans process information about their own bodies in space and in relation to other objects and people.

Read More: Robotics News and Robotics Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to