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Robotics Technology

A Robotic Cable Inspection System 65

Posted by Zonk
from the amazing-voyage-only-without-guts dept.
Roland Piquepaille writes "In a short article, Popular Science reports that researchers at the University of Washington have built a robotic cable inspection system. This system should help utility companies to maintain their networks of subterranean cables. The robot, dubbed Cruiser, is about 4-feet-long and is designed like a snake. When it detects an anomaly on an underground cable, it sends a message to a human operator via Wi-Fi. The first field tests took place in New Orleans in December 2006. But a commercial version should not be available before 2012."
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A Robotic Cable Inspection System

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  • Hmm... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Cervantes (612861) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @07:20PM (#19171881) Journal
    Hmmm, 4 feet long, designed like a snake...

    bring on the pr0n jokes...
  • like most robot systems, this has been done in various forms before. I''ll look up a few shortly. But what is autonomous about it ?
    • by moro_666 (414422)
      the autonomous part comes up when the soil is wet and wi-fi signal won't get through or when the material above the snake happens just to be a metal plate thick enough.

      warning, this comment contains sarcasm
  • by tedivm (942879)
    I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 17, 2007 @07:25PM (#19171981)
    > The robot, dubbed Cruiser, is about 4-feet-long and is designed like a snake. When it detects an anomaly on an underground cable, it sends a message to a human operator via Wi-Fi.

    "That's IT! I have had it with these muthafuckin' splices in these muthafuckin' fiba-optic cables!"

  • I was just thinking about maintenance robots yesterday. It was during a nice walk along the creek in our town. I was admiring the quaint little stream of water and the stones over which it flowed and the grass through which it wound, and then the rusty shopping cart.

    The world will be a more beautiful place when the autonomous robots start to finally appear.
    • by Kadin2048 (468275) *
      I was just thinking about maintenance robots yesterday. It was during a nice walk along the creek in our town. I was admiring the quaint little stream of water and the stones over which it flowed and the grass through which it wound, and then the rusty shopping cart.

      The world will be a more beautiful place when the autonomous robots start to finally appear.


      Why? Then you'll just be tripping over discarded robot bits -- battery packs, broken manipulators, spent fuel-cell refills -- instead of beer cans and sh
      • by CrazyJim1 (809850)
        I thought he was just being sarcastic.
      • I think the concept was "Wouldn't it be nice to have a robotic garbageman who spends his life cruising along the river and picking up discarded crap that people have left."

        It's kind of a nice concept, assuming that everything worked correctly...
      • by Thing 1 (178996)

        What makes you think that people will program robots to be any less slovenly then they themselves are?

        Oh, but it's fiendishly clever.

        We make smaller robots, to pick up the discarded bits from the bigger ones cleaning up after us.

        I know, I know, what about their waste, well we just make even smaller robots. And then smaller still.

        It's robots, all the way down.

      • Don't tar all robots with the same brush. Some of them do pick up their uhmmm, ... battery packs ... after they're done "plugging in".
    • by c6gunner (950153)
      You know why the shopping cart is rusty? Because hundreds of people just like you have walked by that quaint little stream, and the stones, and the grass, and said to themselves "oh look. how horrible. an old shopping cart". And then they carried on strolling and humming, leaving the cart for the next passer-by to tisk-tisk about.
      • You know why my leg is broken and I have this nasty bacterial infection? Because I tried to crawl down in the stream, over the rocks to pull out a rusty shopping cart.

        *sarcasm off*

        Your point is entirely valid, the real danger presented by the cart is minimal. Additionally, the fact that the cart is there (and any litter in the world) is because of humans.

        Nevertheless, I still see nothing wrong with letting robots handle dirty and potentially injurious tasks.

        How about a park lined with cleaner robots who wil
    • Great idea! That nice park needs some more cruisers! It would be a more worthwhile place if it had.
    • by hcgpragt (968424)
      Ah yes,
      That is what we always do wrong (as techies that is)
      Trying to solve a social / behavioural problem with a technical solution.
      Don't go there it wil fail (see DRM)
      • Yes, yes. This is a Déformation professionnelle [wikipedia.org]

        It's my favorite cognitive bias. For example, "Settin' up a server is like fishin' sturgeon..." That kind of thing :)

        I would ask, however, if technology has not indeed solved any social issues. Has it yet?

        If it has not yet, then it probably never will. However, if there is even one social issue that technology has solved or remedied, then there is reason to believe that other social issues can be relieved with the help of technology.
  • blog spam (Score:5, Informative)

    by PatentMagus (1083289) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @07:29PM (#19172027)
    Yet more piquepaille blog spam. a robotic cable inspection system [popsci.com] is the one and only link to hit.
  • "Squiddy. Coming in quick."
    • by Snospar (638389)

      Yeah, when I read "designed like a snake" I thought the same thing.

      Then I saw the photo and decided there's a long way between a fully autonomous Sentinel and this thing built from parts out of the Maplin catalogue.

      Why does our new technology always look so lo-tech? Get some of those Hollywood designers involved early on ;-)

  • by viking80 (697716) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @07:41PM (#19172179) Journal
    WiFi, or any other radio does not work in salt water.

    This is an automated comment generated by a grease monkey script. If you agree that the Featured Article posted by a blog whore, or if you do not want to read any future articles with no useful or new content, you can gray out all Roland Piquepaille articles with this script:

    http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/5735/ [userscripts.org] [userscripts.org]

    Enjoy!

    The part that automatically posts this information is not included.
  • It would be great if Slashdot started using Metric in describing things like this. Seems like it might be a good way to promote the metric system.
  • I can't find a link, but I'm sure I saw a National Geographic documentary on technicians using robots to fix subterranean cables on Paris' massive underground network of tunnels.
  • by MichaelCrawford (610140) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @07:55PM (#19172333) Homepage Journal
    From time to time they need to cut and re-weld the vacuum beam pipe in the CERN particle accellerator. This can leave iron filings in the tube that could screw up the beam. I was told when I spent the Summer of '93 there that the way they clean the pipe out is to attach a brush to the tail of a weasel and have him run down the tube.

    And while offtopic, definitely funny is that one time after they'd sealed the tube back up, they couldn't get the beam to go through a particular section. Investigators found a couple beer bottles spaced several meters apart inside the tube.

    • This can leave iron filings in the tube that could screw up the beam. I was told when I spent the Summer of '93 there that the way they clean the pipe out is to attach a brush to the tail of a weasel and have him run down the tube.

      Richard Gere has some prior art on this method of "cleaning" his plumbing.

      And while offtopic, definitely funny is that one time after they'd sealed the tube back up, they couldn't get the beam to go through a particular section. Investigators found a couple beer bottles spaced several meters apart inside the tube.

      Hehe, but they are not the first ones either [blogspot.com] to whom this happened.

  • holy #$%& a subject! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by blhack (921171) on Thursday May 17, 2007 @07:58PM (#19172371)
    I think that this is using the term 'robot' a bit loosely. This isn't really any more of a robot than the wireless thermometer that I have outside my kitchen. If you could drop the thing on top of a cable, and it would just wander all over(under?) the city looking for bad cables until you called it home; if it had the ability to make a (psuedo-)decision on what to do next based on its surroundings....THAT would be a robot.

    I guess that IMHO a robot should be a machine that could do something that would seem "random" to a casual observer.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by radicalnerd (930674)
      A wireless thermometer is just a sensor. This robot *does do onboard signal processing to help it navigate. From the popsci article:

      Human operators can upload a basic mission plan, which the robot's circuit-board brain fine-tunes as it encounters damaged cable.
    • ...until you called it home
      So, it doesn't come out on its own after it's done measuring your temperature?
  • This Roland gem has a direct link back to his ZDnet blog, so the usual argument that this isn't link whoring doesn't apply. Unfortunately, the /. editors didn't redact this time....

    Please join me in tagging this article as 'ohnoitsroland' -- thank you.
  • It looks like it sits on top of the cable and crawls along. But, isn't the top of the cable normally covered with dirt? Does it require an outside tube or little mines or what? Does it just dig its way along? I don't see how it can be used on existing cables. Could someone explain? :)
    • I'm not entirely sure, but I guess the idea is that it inspects cables that are installed in tunnels or other large conduits, underground.

      Not sure how useful that is, or who it's most useful to, because in my area all the underground utilities are laid right in the dirt, cut-and-cover fashion, with a backhoe (or, one assumes, the really early parts with steam shovels or picks and spades). The only places I personally know of that have big underground vaults and tunnels are universities that have centralized
      • Thank you greatly for that various interesting possible explaination. It even made me want to hack around old colleges. :)
  • Probably would make this linemans job much safer
    link [buffalostate.edu]
    PS, thats a helicopter he's sitting on...
    • by PPH (736903)
      Ariel cables can be inspected remotely using IR and UV cameras. They have different failure modes. Being bare conductors, the insulation (air) doesn't fail the same way underground cable insulation (cross-linked polyethylene) does and its self healing.

      The photo you have is of a lineman performing actual repairs on an energized line. He is wearing a corona suit (a conductive covering that prevents discharge from exposed skin) and is clamped to the conductor to maintain the same voltage (like birds sitting

  • In 1995 in one workplace I attended there were two remote pipe inspection robots with very limited functionality gathering dust on shelves because there were better ones available. A new design is interesting but Roland really should realise that it is not a new idea to be hyped. Can somebody buy him a subscription to New Scientist for things like this and a second hand thermodynamics textbook for the earlier ones?
  • ISTM that there was a /. article about this last year. Including all the obligatory tentacle and underlord jokes.

    The main problem with this device is that it only works with cables installed in cable trays. Most utilities install their cable either in conduit or direct buried. Even with cable trays like they have at the University of Washington, its rare to find an unobstructed run of more than a few hundred yards between walls, gates, vertical rises, or other blockages. While it might produce some cost sav

  • by Anonymous Coward
    We all know that the US (and others) use submarines to install permanent wiretaps onto these cables. What will the robot do when it reaches one? Will it have the ability to discretely move around the tap? Otherwise I doubt that it will ever see the light of day. However the clever designers know this and they therefore know they are guaranteed to be bought out by a US company for an excellent price (see Skype).
  • by PPH (736903)

    When it detects an anomaly on an underground cable, it sends a message to a human operator via Wi-Fi.

    I trained a dog to smell weak spots in power cable insulation. When it found one, it pee'd on it.

    Damn! Poor dog. Back to the drawing board.

  • First, most cable runs, especially pulled cable runs do not run true. Their intertwined. So this appears to only be able to follow one cable with the side support legs it has. And how is it going to scan the cables under it. While it could listen for the ultrasonic tell tail signs of leakage. What the heck is it going to do. There are two choices, pull the cables out and replace them, or just pull another or use a spare. There are other ways that are a lot easier to determine leakage in power cables. While
  • but has anyone else noticed the current general suckiness of PopSci in general? I've had a subscription for a few years and the current issue is basically ads, a fairly cool series of mini-articles on inventions, and an article on Litvinenko's poisoning (spread across excessive pages just to cram more ads in). That's about it. It used to be worth reading, now it's just a series of male-enhancement ads.
  • Have been around a long time..

    So its battery powerd and has wifi ( like pretty much everything else on the planet it seems ) am i supposed to be impresed? Sounds like natural evolution to me, not worthy of being called 'news'.

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