inspection robot

Robots for inspection and maintenance tasks

Inspection and maintenance tasks are a fundamental part of many industrial sectors: deteriorated infrastructures, tunnels, refineries, old buildings...

Mobile robotics allows the automation of operations related to the inspection and maintenance of scenarios that involve danger for operators.

In Robotnik has grown in recent years, the demand for AMR (Autonomous Mobile Robots) both for end users and for R&D projects that promote research in this direction.

Safe industrial inspection

There are difficult to access or dangerous environments for humans, such as nuclear power plants, the chemical industry where toxic substances are handled, or places where there is a danger of collapse, among others.

Mobile robotics offers multiple advantages for inspection tasks in these cases:

  • Ensuring operator safety
  • Reducing the cost of operations
  • Ability to enter hard-to-reach spaces
  • Reducing errors due to fatigue or poor environmental conditions

Autonomous mobile robots for remote inspection

What kind of robots are in demand for inspection and for which applications specifically?

Robotnik has delivered several SUMMIT-XL robots for inspection applications in tunnels, remote substations, agricultural fields, shipbuilding and railway infrastructure, among others.
The SUMMIT-XL is a robust ROS-based modular platform that allows customisation for multiple outdoor and indoor applications. The platform has an autonomy of 5 hours of operation, includes a self-recharging station and is capable of mounting a wide range of sensors and actuators.

summit-xlProblem, context and state-of-the-art

To operate in areas where there may be no data network available or insufficient bandwidth, mobile and autonomous robots capable of operating in these scenarios are needed.

Robot operation is limited by both low autonomy and network limitations. The absence of data networks with the necessary characteristics for real telepresence has meant that most efforts to date have focused on providing robots with a high level of autonomy to perform complex maintenance or inspection operations.

The emergence of 5G technology allows new operating schemes to be used, in which the robot autonomously performs a large part of the mission, but also simplifies remote access to the robot from anywhere. Thus it can be teleoperated in circumstances for which it has not been programmed.

5G networks have latency and bandwidth that enable efficient robot teleoperation and complex teleoperated operations (turning a valve, changing a fuse, resetting a circuit breaker, opening a control panel and searching for a damaged component, etc.).

The robots will continue performing autonomous missions. When their level of autonomy is not capable of solving a problem, an operator will take control and perform the corresponding operation via telepresence, providing intelligence and decision-making.

The robot is operated from a standard HMI that can be customised to the user's specific needs. Additional sensors are added as new tabs and specific functionalities such as RTK-DGPS navigation or 3D point cloud visualisation are enabled in the same environment. The use of web-served interfaces allows remote operation and monitoring from any portable device or PC, as only a web browser is needed.

Success stories

There are several inspection success stories for which Robotnik has developed mobile robotics solutions. One example is the robotic vehicle for the maintenance service of the electricity interconnection tunnel between France and Spain.

To ensure the safety and reliability of the high-voltage power line between France and Spain, Robotnik has developed a fleet of robotic trains to monitor the condition of the tunnel section of the line.

The line is 64.5 km long, 33.5 km in France and 31 km in Spain, and crosses the Pyrenees through an 8.5 km tunnel in the central part of the route. This is an ambitious European project being developed by the mixed capital company INELFE (Interconexión Eléctrica Francia-España, a company formed by the public electricity companies of each country).

The interconnection between the two countries aims to optimise the daily production of the power plants, increase opportunities to operate with renewable energies and improve supply conditions.

Finally, it is important for Robotnik to highlight the importance of robot simulation in inspection projects. Simulated robots and environments make possible to start software development at an early stage and to reproduce the operating conditions even before the hardware has been developed. The simulation phase allows testing of kinematic and sensor configurations and is an important part of the design iteration cycle. In this use case, simulation allowed testing of different fleet management systems, collision avoidance algorithms and point cloud processing strategies.

 


ROBO-SPECT, First technological tests at the VSH test tunnels gallery

The first tests of the integrated robotic system, developed in the framework of the European project ROBO-SPECT, were successfully executed on the week 20-24 July 2015, at the Research Infrastructure Tunnels of VSH (VSH Hagerbach Test Gallery Ltd.), at cast in place concrete, damaged and undamaged section of the tunnel network. The testing was performed by ICCS, UC3M, ROBO, CNR, CASSIDIAN and ENPC project partners, responsible for the creation of the different hardware and software components.

Version 1 of the ROBO-SPECT integrated robotic system tested in VSH tunnels network consists of:

  1. The robotic platform of the system which is the main system vehicle that incorporates all hardware and software systems and it’s responsible for the autonomous navigation and positioning of the robotic system as well as crane and robotic arm
  2. The computer vision system which is responsible for the crack and other defects detection on the surface of the tunnels, calculation of the crack coordinates as well as the creation of 3D model of the area of interest.
  3. A 3D laser scanner that is also used to create a 3D representation of the tunnel slice of interest to detect deformations of the tunnel perimeter and shape.
  4. An ultrasonic sensing device that is used to provide very accurate measurements of the identified cracks with a sub-millimeter precision.
  5. And a structural assessment software (not evaluated in this lab test) compiling all sensor results and performing the overall tunnel structural assessment and incorporating the tunnel operator interface.

ROBO-SPECT_02

All system components were tested in semi-integrated and individual scenarios into actual parts of the VSH tunnel network and also over damaged testing concrete slabs that were created by the VSH team. The evaluation and benchmarking included the performance of the navigation and positioning system, the vision system, the ability to control the arm, stability, the sensing system, the inspection speed as a function of damage and the structural assessment models.

The testing of the overall robotic platform followed a waterfall approach starting with the robotic platform that included safety lasers installation under operating circumstances, to allow the collision avoidance tool for the movement of the platform. Tests were performed with the movement and positioning of the crane, the general performance of the movement,  and the communications and, the interfaces for the mission controller within the robotic system and required adjustments’ have been made were needed.

Following that, tests were focused on the evaluation of the robotic arm operation including its proper communication with the other subsystems: the ROBO-SPECT vision system that was developed by ICCS and the mobile vehicle that was created by ROBOTNIK. The test had shown that the system was able to scan the surface of the wall and position the robotic tip at a constant distance to the wall with normal orientation.

The crack and defect detection computer-vision modules were also tested over visible cracks and were able to perform crack (and other defects’) detections even in areas with multiple cracks on the surface.

ROBO-SPECT_Cracks

The 3D laser scanner of the system was also tested and successfully captured slices of the positions of interest inside the tunnel that were locally stored for further processing.

On-field testing of the ultrasonic sensor system for crack characterisation was performed in VSH facility on cracks artificially produced on a two-meter high sample of tunnel lining with length of several meters, suitable for emulating real working conditions for the ultrasonic sensor system. In these tests, the robot arm was brought close to the lining and brought in contact with it using the four-point supports of the ultrasonic sensor module. The procedure was completed successfully and vibrations during arm movement seemed not to interfere with the precision of the placement and the effectiveness of the crack depth measurements.

ROBO-SPECT_01

ROBO-SPECT follow-up activities include the finalisation of the overall system integration and their subsequent testing. In consistence with the ROBO-SPECT development plan, the system will be validated and benchmarked at the actual tunnels of Egnatia Odos (Greece) and London Underground (UK) in the upcoming March 2016 and July 2016 respectively.

Robotnik has prepared the robotic vehicle so it is able to move on a tele-operated way using a joypad, and semi-autonomously given speed and steering references through the software controller. The obstacle avoidance system is done and the ongoing work deals with the achievement of the needed accuracy for the autonomous navigation. The different joints of the crane can be tele-operated and software controlled. A complete model of the crane has been designed and a software simulator has been created.


The autonomous vehicle at newspaper El Mundo

El Mundo journal has written an article in its  supplement about the autonomous train  developed by Robotnik for the maintenance and inspection of the underground interconnection between France and Spain. In its article is remarkable the participation of Robotnik  for bringing the automation to difficult environments to reach. The newspaper article talks about the characteristics and possible uses that this platform is able to develop and the characteristics of the infrastructure.

 


inspection robot

An autonomous train in the electrical interconnection between Spain and France

The electricity interconnection between Spain and France, which will double the capacity of energy that can log-shipped from one country to another, was inaugurated today in the French town of Montesquieu-des-Albères.

In this interconnection, which represents an investment of 700 million euros, will work an autonomous vehicle designed and manufactured by Robotnik. It performs tasks for the maintenance service  of the tunnel. The robot has a autonomous functioning, ie, it does not require to be performed by anyone in the work of inspection. It also incorporates wide sensing, which provides information about the status of the facilities in the tunnel.

The interconnection has an underground section which will be the world's longest (64.5 km) and will double the capacity of interconnection between Spain and France, increasing from 1400-2800 megawatts (MW).

If you want more information, see the video here.


Robotnik continues participating in projects funded under FP7 programme

ROBO-SPECT is a European 7th Framework project funded under the ICT programme on Robotics Use Cases (contract No. 611145), implemented by 10 partners from 6 European countries.

The main objective of the project consortium is to provide an automated, speedy and reliable tunnel inspection and assessment solution that can combine in one pass both inspection and detailed structural assessment and that only minimally interfere with tunnel traffic. The proposed robotic system will be evaluated at the research infrastructure of VSH in Switzerland, at London Underground and at the tunnels of Egnatia Motorway in Greece.

The project officially launched its activities in October 2013. During the first year of the project the partners indentified an extended group of end-users, derived user requirements and specifications and based on these designed the first prototypes of all components of the proposed robotic system. Robotnik handles the automation of mobile robotics platform of this project.

The AutoWinSpec project is partly funded by the European Seventh Framework Program (FP7) over two years.

The proposed research aims to deliver a novel inspection technique and apparatus based on Acousto - Ultrasonics, a mechanical integrity assessment technique, to enable accurate estimation of the mechanical properties of the blades and their remaining lifespan. Therefore wind farm operators will be able to identify defective areas and order the new blade on time to increase availability; hence profits.

The entire process will be automated; reducing costs per WT inspected and inspection time by 84% and 50% respectively compared to existing approach while enhancing the operators’ safety by eliminating the need to climb on 100m wind towers.