Simple robot can 'scoot' along power lines to look for damage

April 17, 2013 at 3:43 PM

SAN DIEGO, April 17 (UPI) -- Engineers in California say they've invented a simple and inexpensive robot that can scoot along utility lines searching for problems needing repair.

Mechanical engineers at the University of California, San Diego, say their SkySweeper prototype, made with off-the-shelf electronics and plastic parts created on an inexpensive 3D printer, could be put into production for less than $1,000, making it significantly more economical than robots currently used to inspect power lines.

"Current line inspection robots are large, complex and expensive. Utility companies may also use manned or unmanned helicopters equipped with infrared imaging to inspect lines," said Nick Morozovsky, a graduate student in mechanical engineering. "This is much simpler."

SkySweeper could be equipped with induction coils that could take energy from the power line itself, allowing it to stay deployed for weeks or months at a time, the researchers said.

A motor-driven "elbow" in the middle of the V-shaped robot and clamps that can open and close on the ends of its arms allow it to move it down a power line inch by inch, a university release said Wednesday.

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