If you've got a 3-inch diameter pipe to inspect from inside, chances are you're not going to try crawling in there yourself. At the recent IREX 2015 show in Japan, however, we spied a robot designed to do just that. Made by Tokyo-based HiBot, THESBOT is a sinuous robot that snakes its way through narrow pipework, transmitting real-time video and gathering other data as it does so.
The modular THESBOT has an umbilical cable trailing from its rear end, which is hard-wired to the joystick control unit used by the operator. That person views live video from the robot's "head"-mounted LED-equipped video camera, remotely panning and tilting the camera as needed, along with controlling THESBOT's speed and direction.
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The wheeled robot can also be equipped with sensor modules that use magnetic fields, ultrasound or eddy currents to check for losses in wall thickness, or for cracks.
Because of its hinged, segmented design, THESBOT is easily able to make its way through elbow sections and T-joints. It can also climb both vertically and horizontally, although it uses different wheels to do so. Depending on what's required, the robot takes on a sort of zig-zag shape, so that only certain dedicated wheels make contact with the pipe walls. At IREX, we saw it use this system to first make its way through a U-bend before climbing a 2-meter (6.6-ft) section of pipe.
THESBOT is intended mainly for use in 3, 4, 6 or 8-inch (76 to 203-mm)-diameter pipes in the oil, gas and water industries. The HiBot rep we spoke to told us that the 2nd-generation model from the show is almost ready to hit the market, but still requires a bit of tweaking before it does so.
The robot can be seen in action, in the following video.