Inventors from the Manufacturing Technology Centre believe ‘Ratty the Robot’ can offer utility firms big cost and efficiency savings as well as reducing human exposure to hazardous environments.
They also claim that technology is moving fast from simply mapping and inspecting pipes and tunnels to one day carrying out repairs without having to dig up roads.
Currently, most advanced inspection work of drainage, sewage and gas supply pipes is carried out by tethered devices managed by operators, which is costly, slow and labour intensive, with difficult to reach areas.
The tetherless pipe-crawling robot can operate autonomously and navigate confined areas, enabling the operator to focus on the inspection.
MTC robotics research engineer Dr Mahesh Dissanayake said: “The pipe-crawling robot can travel in confined spaces, inspecting networks while working fully autonomously.
“It opens up the opportunity of inspecting far more of the underground network at a much-reduced cost, reducing failure rates and flagging up potential problems.
“With technology advancing all the time the next exciting step could be a robot which not only inspects pipework, but is capable of carrying out repairs remotely without having to dig up roads,” he said.
Simon Langdale, engineering director at Synthotech, said, “It’s been great to put this proof of concept though its paces in a range of simulated environments.
Automation of inspections for pipes is a key area that can help build better understanding of the complex infrastructure underground. We have been able to benchmark our current live access robotics against automated robotics and make sure that we can stay at the cutting edge with support from the MTC.”
The MTC is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, supported by Innovate UK.