Service robots for inspection and maintenance of buildings and other constructions

One of the most prominent robotic tasks is the inspection and maintenance of buildings and other constructions. Aside from cost considerations, there may be no other option than sending a robot to a dangerous or reach-to-hard location.

The inspection robots' operating types

As the complexity of engineering systems increases and the world becomes increasingly unstable, the challenge is to ensure the safety and stable operation of expensive equipment and infrastructure such as buildings, petrochemical plants, transportation facilities, factories and ports, and power plants. These tasks require regular, repetitive procedures such as collecting data from various sensors, performing repetitive operations such as opening and closing valves, turning on and off electricity, collecting audiovisual information, etc.

Many robot models have already been created to perform these essential tasks, and probably many more are in development. Startups from all over the world offer their solutions for both mobile and stationary robotic systems. The combination of essential elements and features gives the most incredible combinations for inspection and monitoring tasks.

In this category of robots, you can find the most incredible ways of movement: robots on classical wheeled or tracked chassis, walking robots, hexapods, and even robots crawling like a snake. Robots can get to the most difficult-to-reach places in the most challenging environments with this variety.

Actuators with many degrees of freedom and various sensors provide unprecedented opportunities for collecting a variety of data and manipulations.

Communication units provide secure communication and transmission of both audiovisual information and sensor readings.

The robot control center allows you to monitor and control the tasks performed by the robot, control the robot, or set tasks for autonomous operation.

Main areas of application

Industrial Plants and Buildings

For more than 30 years, the world's leading companies have expressed considerable interest in using mobile robots for the automatic monitoring of production areas and process equipment. The robot dogs from Boston Dynamics have become well known in this field. Other manufacturers are trying to keep up and offer their own solutions.

For example, Sankyo and MetraLabs offer robots that watch for hazards, monitor environmental conditions such as air quality, radiation, and smoke, inspect buildings, and inspect remote problem locations to reduce human visits to sites. The UV disinfection robot is their counterpart in clinical or other public environments.

Power generation and power line infrastructure

Regular monitoring and inspection of power substations, electrical substations, high-voltage overhead transmission lines, and power plants are required. In the hydropower business, in-situ inspection and maintenance of turbine runners, ducts, tubes, and other components is critical, for example, to identify cavitation, damage, and cracking. According to a 2018 study, robotic transmission line inspection is the most advantageous for this business. One of the latest developments is a robot from the West Japan Rail Company in Japan. West Japan Rail Company has published footage of their latest humanoid heavy equipment robot. This Gundam-style robot torso, mounted on the end of a crane, simulates a human pilot's arm and head actions, who views through the robot's eyes using VR goggles. Many autonomous robots are currently under development, capable of performing tasks ranging from inspecting the average transformer to monitoring the operation of nuclear power plant systems.

Prospects for robots for inspection and maintenance of buildings

Robots are one approach to guard against possible hazards, including biological, chemical, and nuclear threats. Furthermore, the cost of human operations might be relatively high. Offshore platforms are one of the labor settings with highly high overhead costs for logistics, work tempo, safety, and skills. The use of robots for routine activities like inspection and maintenance on offshore platforms and chemical facilities, whether remotely or autonomously operated, offers a relatively quick payback period.

For example, more than 300,000 km of transmission lines are in the United States, and inspecting transmission lines is costly and sometimes dangerous. Corrosion and reliability of overhead transmission lines are critical issues for the industry. As transmission facilities age, data on their condition is needed to maintain high reliability. Internal failures and bulges in aluminum conductors are caused by corrosion and internal defects in the cables. Using transmission line inspection robots and a new generation of low-cost wireless sensors, detailed and up-to-date information on the condition of transmission line components and lines can be obtained remotely, improving reliability and reducing operation and maintenance costs. In some cases, the purchase of deferred maintenance robots can shift O&M costs to capital expenditures, recouping the investment and depreciation.

Overall, the use of robots in inspection and maintenance has not reached its potential in recent years. Initiatives such as the Sprint Robotics Collaboration aim to make the use of robots for inspection and maintenance of capital-intensive infrastructure a reality on a vast scale over the next decade. Founded by several major asset owners in the petrochemical industry, the initiative argues that robots for inspection and maintenance of capital-intensive infrastructure assets are essential because of the need to minimize safety and environmental impacts. Robotic inspection and maintenance can also reduce downtime, prevent human intrusion into vessels and other assets, and reduce the costs required for human services.

* In preparing the article, the materials of the report “World Robotics Service Robots Report” were used.