AI News, CMU Snakebots Infest Nuclear Power Plant

CMU Snakebots Infest Nuclear Power Plant

At some point, to be sustainable, research has to make a jump from 'do it because it’s cool' to 'do it because it’s actually useful and has some sort of practical application that people need and/or will pay for.'

We've been hearing for years that Carnegie Mellon’s snakebots are just the thing to undertake inspection tasks in places like nuclear power plants, but now, CMU has put its robots where its papers are, and have stuffed these things into an actual nuclear power reactor.

It’s within the realm of possibility, I suppose, that the picture above shows a snake robot on a control panel as opposed to operating a control panel, but that’s somewhat safer and less exciting.

the robot is capable of traveling as far as it needs to, with the addition of some sort of second robot that lives on the tether itself, zipping up and down it and managing the tether around bends in the pipe to make sure that the robot can always be yanked out if necessary.

Press Release: Carnegie Mellon Snake Robot Winds Its Way Through Pipes, Vessels of Nuclear Power Plant

of a modular snake robot in an Austrian nuclear power plant proved the multi-jointed robot with a camera on its head can crawl through a variety of steam pipes and connecting vessels, suggesting it could be a valuable inspection tool, report researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute.

Members of the CMU Biorobotics Lab, working with representatives of the plant owner, EVN Group, sent their snake robot into a variety of pipes at the Zwentendorf Nuclear Power Plant in May. The boiling-water reactor was built in the 1970s, but was never operated.

nuclear power plant contains miles of pipes to carry water and various stages of steam and, despite the potential for corrosion and other damage, much of that piping is difficult to inspect because radioactivity limits access by people.

'Though the deployment at the Zwentendorf plant was limited, we saw the snake robot reach areas of pipes that would be difficult or impossible to access using a borescope,' said Martin Fries, an engineer for EVN Group who assisted with the tests.

'With further development and testing, such a robot could give operators a more complete understanding of a plant's condition and perhaps reduce a plant's downtime by enabling faster, more efficient inspections.'

The snake robot has been tested in urban search-and-rescue environments in which it crawls through the rubble of collapsed buildings, in archeological excavations and in conventional fossil fuel plants.

Further development could enable the snake robot to perform simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM), a robotic technique that would produce a map of a nuclear plant's pipe network as it exists.

A different twist on locomotion

In a lab in the basement of Newell-Simon Hall, robotics doctoral student Matt Tesch grabs what looks like a PlayStation controller and begins quickly pressing buttons and moving the joysticks.

After the snakebot crawls on the floor for a bit, showing off all its moves, Tesch grabs a hollow plastic tube, wraps the snakebot around the pole and it rolls upward.

The tests gave researchers an opportunity to access pipes and areas that would be restricted because of high radiation levels in working plants, allowing the robot to go where no robot has gone before.

Radiation levels in much of the plant remain so high that humans can’t enter, and the company that owns the Fukushima Daiichi plant has recently admitted that it doesn’t know where the melted fuel cores are.

The snakebots’ cameras are able to automatically correct the view presented—when they’re upside down, the cameras adjust the video to appear right side up.

That feature impressed the power plant’s staff, the researchers say, but more impressive was the robots’ flexibility, which gives them a serious advantage over conventional equipment for inspecting the insides of pipes.

segmented snakebot can easily twist and turn up and into inlets and through tight corners, allowing researchers to be far enough away from dangers such as radiation.

“Urban search and rescue use extends your sensory reach to find survivors while protecting first responders.” Another version of the snakebot—much smaller—is being tested in cardiac heart operations.

The snakebot can enter a small incision, make a quarter-inch turn, and weave behind the heart, where it can send photos back to physicians.

Ancient Egyptians left their old boats in caves along the coast, but as the centuries passed the caves collapsed, making it impossible for archeologists to reach the sea vessels.

It’s no science fiction spoof: Choset is currently working on a project with Boeing to develop snakebots that could work in manufacturing situations, applying paints and other coatings inside tight spaces, such as tanks.

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