Utility inspection robot like ‘a rat up a drainpipe’

Meet Ratty the Robot: an autonomous robotic rat that can scurry along underground pipes to carry out inspection work.

The brainchild of the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), Ratty [not Roland? – ed] is a tetherless, wheeled inspection robot with a laser-based navigation module, which has the potential to carry out tasks in environments that would defeat most robots.

Ratty can self-drive, leaving the operator to focus on the inspection. It can also automatically map complex pipework and tunnel systems, which have built up over many years.

The robot has the potential to bring cost and efficiency savings for utility companies, as well as reducing human exposure to hazardous environments and preventing pipework leaks, according to its creators.

Tried and tested

MTC advanced robotics research engineer Dr Mahesh Dissanayake said: “This proof-of-concept robot can travel in confined spaces, inspecting networks while working 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 that not only inspects pipework, but is also capable of carrying out repairs remotely without having to dig up roads.”

The robot has successfully undertaken simulated trials at the Synthotech test facility in Yorkshire. 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 to make sure that we can stay at the cutting edge with support from the MTC.”

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