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High-Wire Robot to Inspect the Grid


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powerline inspection robot illustration

The first prototype of a robot designed to inspect transmission infrastructure while crawling along power lines will be tested this month, with in-field testing expected in 2014.

Credit: Electric Power Research Institute

Researchers at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) have developed a robot that can crawl along transmission lines to inspect electrical wires without the need for manned helicopter inspections. The prototype robot, which weighs 140 pounds and measures six feet long, uses rollers to clamp onto and move along electrical lines. It can maneuver past towers using cables built into newer towers or retrofitted onto old ones. "There is nothing that does what it does; nothing that even tries," says EPRI's Andrew Phillips.

The robot also is equipped with a high-definition camera and sensors that can detect overgrown trees. "It will do image analysis to see if there is something different with the structure compared to an earlier picture taken from the exact same spot," Phillips says.

The robot can determine if there are any faulty connections that could cause overheating, and listen for electromagnetic "noise" that might indicate other problems with equipment. The robot will send the data it collects back to the utility using either cell phone signals or a satellite link.

From Technology Review
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