Water pipe-inspection robot designed to have a light touch

Water pipe-inspection robot de...
Inventas' Fredrik Lund (left) and SINTEF's Gorm Johansen with the new robot (Photo: Inventas)
Inventas' Fredrik Lund (left) and SINTEF's Gorm Johansen with the new robot (Photo: Inventas)
View 1 Image
Inventas' Fredrik Lund (left) and SINTEF's Gorm Johansen with the new robot (Photo: Inventas)
Inventas' Fredrik Lund (left) and SINTEF's Gorm Johansen with the new robot (Photo: Inventas)

When it comes to robots that perform internal inspections of water pipes, virtually all of them move along on rubber tires or treads. As that rubber grips against the inside of the pipe, however, it dislodges rust particles that ultimately end up coming out of peoples' taps. In an effort to address that problem, the European Union TRACT project is developing a propeller-driven inspection robot that keeps the pipe-touching to a minimum.

The current 3D-printed prototype was created by Norway's SINTEF research group (which has previously developed a wheeled pipe-inspection robot), along with Breivoll Inspection Technologies and industrial design firm Inventas.

It has an articulated segmented body, with propellers located at either end. While those props provide the power to move it, spring-loaded fins on its body do lightly brush against the inside of the pipe, just to keep the bulk of the robot from contacting it.

Depending on which prop is activated, the robot can move forward or backward through pipes as small as 10 cm (3.9 in) in diameter. It can travel up to 150 meters (492 ft) – making turns as sharp as 90 degrees as it goes – and then simply reverse back through the pipes to get to its starting point for retrieval.

The robot performs its inspections using 64 onboard ultrasound transducers. By emitting ultrasound signals into the pipe walls and then analyzing the reflected signals, it's able to determine the thickness of the metal. If a significant amount of that thickness has been lost to corrosion at any given location, the transducers will pick up on it.

The TRACT project started last December, and is due to wrap up next year. You can see the robot in action, in the video below.

Source: SINTEF

Mocup with propellers IMG 0894

That video at the end was really impressive. The fact it uses onboard ultrasound transducers to move around is really interesting. The only thing I'm wondering after reading this is how do other pipe-inspection robots traverse through the pipes. Do they use the ultrasound like this one?
-- Kyle Boas Founder and Producer of
Expanded Viewpoint
The ultra sonic portion of the device is for detecting the wall thickness of the pipes, the propellers are used to make it go through the pipes. As said early on, other inspection robots use wheels or treads. The treads being referred to are like what you find on earth moving equipment or army tanks. You need to go back and clear up any words that you did not fully understand there. As to the concerns about dislodging a little bit of rust in the pipes, that's what they make water filters for. Regarding stuff in the water, I'd rather worry about all of the chemicals like Dioxin, Chlorine, Fluoride and fracking remnants and other crap like that than a wee bit of rust now and then!
Norvin Eitzen
Some robots are free-swimming such as the PipeDiver: