Robotics

Power line-crawling robot may give drones a run for their money

Power line-crawling robot may ...
The LineRanger robot, on display at ICRA 2019
The LineRanger robot, on display at ICRA 2019
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The LineRanger moves along power lines via powered rubber rollers
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The LineRanger moves along power lines via powered rubber rollers
The LineRanger transmits real-time video from an HD camera
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The LineRanger transmits real-time video from an HD camera
The LineRanger can also be equipped with sensors that detect corrosion or heat points, or that measure the conductivity of power line splices
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The LineRanger can also be equipped with sensors that detect corrosion or heat points, or that measure the conductivity of power line splices
The LineRanger robot, on display at ICRA 2019
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The LineRanger robot, on display at ICRA 2019

Amongst many other things, aerial drones are now being used to inspect high-voltage power transmission lines. Canada's Hydro-Quebec public utility company, however, has developed what could be a better alternative … the LineRanger robot.

We recently saw a functioning LineRanger prototype for ourselves, at the world's largest-ever robotics show – the 2019 International Conference on Robotics and Automation, in Montreal.

The 50-kg (110-lb) device is designed to be cable-hoisted up onto extra-high-voltage 735-kilovolt transmission lines, which it grabs onto with its battery-powered rubber rollers. Remotely-controlled by a ground-based human operator, it then moves along those lines, easily going over obstacles such as couplers or insulators.

The LineRanger transmits real-time video from an HD camera
The LineRanger transmits real-time video from an HD camera

As it does so, real-time video is transmitted from its onboard HD camera to the user, allowing them to visually inspect the lines. The robot can also be equipped with sensors that detect corrosion or heat points, or that measure the conductivity of power line splices.

Unlike a multicopter drone, the LineRanger doesn't need to expend any energy keeping itself airborne – as a result, it can be used to inspect several kilometers of power lines on one charge of its battery pack. The claimed advantages don't stop there, though.

"One of the major points of this design is that it's easy to use," Hydro-Quebec/IREQ researcher Alain Croteau told us at the show. "Basically you only have one degree of freedom, you push on or pull back … We want this to be usable by people with no particular knowledge of robotics."

The LineRanger has already been successfully utilized by its designers to carry out inspections, and should hopefully soon enter general use by Hydro-Quebec. It can be seen in action, in the video below.

Project page: Hydro-Quebec LineRanger

LineRanger : A Revolution in Transmission Line Robotics

6 comments
paul314
For some jobs, KISS is the right way to go.
guzmanchinky
Maybe sell it with a drone that can place it onto the wires and take it down? I have so much respect for line workers. A dangerous and critical job in the middle of nowhere.
Username
Why is it battery powered? couldn't it run on induction? This seems the proper step to having inspections completely autonomous and continuous leaving drone use solely for specific circumstances.
owlbeyou
So cool the way it's spring-loaded suspension allows it to ride over the bumpy obstacles in the transmission line to give a close-up reading of the line's condition. I really get a charge out of this since I get my volts from Hydro Quebec.
DanielT
Just too cool! Had to watch very closely twice to see the ride over system. Just genius. I agree Paul 314 & Owl! Firewatch, search enhancement (drop launch a flying drone?) Parcel delivery? Limited like a train but this has added potentual. And just fraking cool!
Jerry
Back in 1987,88, the company that I worked for "TRC" developed a line inspecting robot for the TVA that line powered and rolled down the line. We built a working proof of concept model in 1/2 scale and demoed it for TVA. They bought the production rights and that's the last we heard of it.