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Infrastructure Inspections Go Robotic

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Robotic Infrastructure Inspection Systems

In order to minimize the costs, risks and disruptions associated with structural inspections, robotic systems have increasingly been studied as an enhancement to current inspection practices.

Combined with the increasing variety of commercially available robots, the last two decades have seen dramatic growth in the application of such systems.


As the technology matures and becomes more reliable more sectors of our infrastructure are starting to adopt their use. The use of these systems spans the breadth of civil infrastructure works, and the variety of implemented robotic systems is growing rapidly. However, the highly interdisciplinary nature of research in this field means that results are disseminated across a broad variety of publications.  

This review paper aggregates these studies in an effort to distill the state of the art in inspection robotics, as well as to assess outstanding challenges in the field and possibilities for the future.


Overall, analysis of these studies illustrates that the design of inspection robots is often a case-specific compromise between competing needs for sophisticated inspection sensing and for flexible locomotion in challenging field environments.

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This review also points toward the growing use of robots as a platform to deploy advanced nondestructive evaluation (NDE) technologies, as well as the expanded use of commercially available robotic systems. Two key outstanding challenges for future researchers are suggested as well.


The first is the need for more sophisticated, and inspection-driven, robot autonomy. The other is the need to process and manipulate the massive data sets that modern robots generate.


Inspection robots have risen to the task of surveying some of the most severe industrial environments, which would otherwise be dangerous, time-consuming, and costly for human inspectors. These locations include difficult-to-access areas such as bridge arches, girders, drilling platforms, oil, water and wastewater pipes, and large tunnels.


Robotic Inspection Replacing Manual Inspection

Since such environments may not be safe for humans, inspection robots are not only a viable solution, but an ideal one The oil and gas industry represents the largest segment utilizing inspection robots.


which can observe critical components such as pipes, reactors, columns, and pressure vessels.  Robots perform well in harsh conditions, including gaseous environments, high pressure areas, extreme temperatures, and among corrosive chemicals. Such situations may lead to such failures as cracking, leakage, deflections, deformities, and other anomalies in the infrastructure.


Safety isn’t the only advantage to inspection robots.



Reliability also is a big factor.


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Safety isn’t the only advantage to employing inspection robots. Reliability also is a big factor.


“Robotics makes conducting infrastructure and industrial inspections safer and more consistent, providing more quantitative data to asset owners while being safer for both the public and the inspectors performing the services,” says Bill Seavey, Chief Technology Officer, for Infrastructure Preservation Corporation which has created some of the most advanced  inspection robots available today.


“We are taking people out of potentially dangerous situations while providing a level of inspection repeat ability that is hard to achieve manually. Robotic inspection is quickly becoming the norm for industrial inspection and because of this we are seeing more use cases and finding new and interesting ways to conduct inspections that were previously not possible.”


The value of inspection robots is gaining traction as major industries realize their value. According to the research firm Technavio, between 2017 and 2021, the global inspection robot market will have grown at a compound annual growth rate of 16% plus, reaching more than $3 billion. The oil and gas industry, as well as the petrochemical sector, will be major players in this growth.

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