Earlier this year Carnegie Mellon University’s Biorobotics Lab put its modular snake robot’s practicality to the test in Austria’s abandoned nuclear power plant, where it provided clear, well-lit images from the inside of pipes.
The Zwentendorf plant was built in the 1970s but was never turned on, so there’s no radiation to worry about. With a multitude of tricky pipes to explore it is the perfect testing ground for inspection robots.
Recently, several robots have been developed to help explore the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was damaged in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. However, most plants contain miles of pipes, which other robots can’t adequately inspect.
The CMU’s snake robot, which has a camera and LEDs on its head, crawled into 15 cm (6 in) wide steam pipes, providing operators with a clear view of what was inside. The robot moves by rolling itself in a corkscrew pattern, so the resulting video feed is automatically corrected in software to align with gravity. The only problems remain that the snake robot is tethered by a power and control cable limiting its reach and that it is not water-proof.
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