Regular and thorough inspections of infrastructure are crucial to assess the lifespan of the assets and help inform asset owners when or where maintenance or repairs are needed.
It also helps ensure that the community’s assets are safe to use, do not pose a danger, and continuously provide quality service.
However, the inspection process can be costly, cause damage to assets, disrupt service, and some inspections done in dangerous or harsh environments can be risky to inspectors.
According to Roads & Bridges, robotics are increasingly used to inspect bridge stay cables and high mast light poles (HMLP). Traditionally, inspectors would harness themselves to the bridge stay cables to check for corrosion or deterioration.
Wedging on these cables can damage them, allow moisture to penetrate, be risky to inspectors, and disrupt traffic.
Robots can help address these risks and challenges and make the process more efficient, accurate, safe for inspectors through “wireless robotic non-destructive testing (NDT) equipment.”
The robot can wirelessly attach itself to the cable to inspect for any problems while at the same time providing real-time data of the cable’s interior and exterior condition, and can also capture full-length videos and still photographs.
Inspection data are permanently stored and can guide asset management decisions regarding appropriate repairs and maintenance, significantly extending the service life of critical infrastructure and avoiding costly and untimely replacements.
An article from Smartcities talks about how robots can help with utility infrastructure management. The paper identified three robotic technologies applied in utility transmission and distribution (T&D): ground-based, line-suspended, and aerial robots or drones.
With further investment in research and development, robots can become autonomous, replacing a big chunk of human function for regular utility inspection and maintenance.
Robots are also used in offshore infrastructure inspections and repairs.
Scottish Construction Now reports that ORCA Hub has received £2.5 million or equivalent to US$3.44 million to make the use of robots in offshore infrastructure and repair safer. ORCA Hub is part of the UK government’s R&D funding on robotics and AI for extreme environments.
The organization “helps the offshore energy industry use robots to inspect, maintain and repair platforms, wind turbines safely, and other infrastructure, guided by human experts on ships or back onshore.”
The benefits of using robots in infrastructure management are obvious.
It can replace people with risky inspections and maintenance like operating at heights on wind turbines, offshore infrastructructures, transmission lines, bridge stay cables, and high mast light poles.
Robots are non-invasive and non-disruptive, allowing everyday activities to continue while providing accurate real-time data, storage, and sharing.
Infrastructure owning and managing organizations are encouraged to prepare for the use of robots for inspection, storage, analysis, and system integration of much bigger data streams that will accompany the broader use of inspection robots.