Why send a human to inspect a pipe, when you can send a robotic rat?

Posted by Derek Mason

30th August 2022

Photo credit: Marco Bicca on Unsplash

There can’t be many people who relish the idea of inspecting sewers, so the development of ‘Ratty the Robot’ – a self-driving robotic rat – is a welcome one.

Rather than send humans into hazardous locations that could potentially contain dangerous gases to inspect pipes, tunnels and sewers, this tether-less, autonomous robot can navigate in tight spaces, while the operator concentrates on the inspection work from afar.

It’s a wheeled inspection unit that can carry out tasks in environments that would be difficult to access for most robots. Guided by lasers, the self-driving robot can map pipework and tunnels that have built up over time. We know from the work we do that records of underground piping are not always fully accurate, so this is a much-needed device.

The robot has been put through its paces in simulated trials at utility engineering specialist Synthotech’s test centre in Yorkshire. The Manufacturing Technology Centre robotics research engineer, Dr Mahesh Dissanayake explains the benefits, saying, “It opens up the opportunity of inspecting far more of the underground network at a much-reduced cost.”

At the moment, most remote inspection work carried out in drainage, sewage and gas supply pipes is carried out using tethered devices. Operators have to both navigate and do inspection work, which is labour intensive and therefore expensive.

A tether-less, navigating robot will reduce the time taken for inspections and reduce the costs involved. As development continues in this area, it’s hoped that the next step could be a robot that not only aids inspection, but also carries out repairs. This could mean repairs can be carried out without digging up roads and disrupting traffic – something that can only be a good thing.

Ratty the Robot is not the only robot of interest right now in the UK. The MTC has also taken delivery of two agile robotic dogs, named Spot. Developed by Boston Dynamics, a mobile robotics company, these robots can climb stairs and cross rough terrain.

The MTC is working with organisations in construction and agriculture to see where efficiencies can be made with these robots. It will be interesting to see what applications they come up with.

In the meantime, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

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