Often we robots come into existence simply to risk our necks on behalf of humankind. That is certainly the case in regards to our new friend SkySweeper. Here’s the story of this tiny little bot that has made big waves in the electrical safety field as told by the bot and its creator, Nick Morozovsky.
Usually power line malfunctions require humans to physically place themselves in harms way, climbing out onto the wires to repair or inspect them. Not only is this dangerous and timely, but it also requires the power lines turned off, as it would not be safe to send crews out on the wires live. Often risky jobs lead researchers to find robotic replacements for these tasks, so models of me were built to fill this job.
In 2011, Morozovsky was inspired to build a prototype for SkySweeper, after seeing another more complicated version of it in action back at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems. “I was at the IROS robotics conference in 2011 and Professor Shigeo Hirose was presenting the Expliner power line inspection robot,” explains Morozovsky.
“I was impressed with the design, but it has a lot of joints and motors so I wondered if I could come up with a simpler (cheaper) robot that could still move along wires and overcome obstacles.” Morozovsky returned to the United States, designing the SkySweeper as a much lower cost alternative than the Expliner.
The bot explains how it works:
I gain my strength from my V-shaped design, relying on my central motor-driven ‘elbow’. This joint pivots my two arms, each with clamps at their end, alternately grasping and releasing the cable, inching me along the cable. While currently powered by battery, I could be equip with induction coils, allowing me to feed my electrical needs off the very power line I am running along. Soon I will also have stronger clamps, so I can swing myself around the cable connection supports.
Morozovsky explains that “There are other robots currently being used for power line inspection in Japan (Expliner) and Canada (LineScout)” which he projects will continue to be used in the future, but also points out that SkySweeper is unique to these pre-existing robots.
“Existing robots that inspect power lines are large, slow, and expensive,” Morozovsky told MAKE magazine after the SkySweeper won runner up in their September competition to exhibit at New York City’s Maker Faire. “SkySweeper is small, fast, and almost all parts of the robot are 3D printed or available cheaply off-the-shelf.” Popular Science also doted on SkySweeper, featuring it as the “Best of What’s New” for 2013.
The bot explains where you’re likely to see it in the future:
While I am a lab prototype for now, I could become a popular tool in the future as large energy companies look to scale back costs. All in all I cost roughly $1,000 to make, given you have access to a 3-D printer of course. By providing a cheaper service, I could check power lines more regularly, making them safer overall.
“They could also be used for more frequent monitoring and even repair, which could mean fewer power outages,” adds Morozovsky.
When asked to relay his favorite trick of the SkySweeper’s, Morozovsky replied, “What I like most about SkySweeper is its dynamic behavior, how it can perform backflips to move along the wire, instead of simply rolling.”
Check out the videos of the SkySweeper in action to see what he’s talking about!
The bot’s final appeal:
Clearly, I’ve got a long way to go before you’ll see me cruising your local neighborhood power lines, but with refinement I could potentially save money, lives and power. Check back with 101bots for more updates on I’m headed next!