Robotic inspection systems gather comprehensive data to assess the condition and status of the transmission system. They can be remotely controlled or can operate without human control. These systems may include imaging, sensing, analysis, and communication technologies.
EPRI is applying its years of experience in condition assessment, sensing, and maintenance to the development of various robot technologies. These efforts also include work in advanced mobility and energy management. The goal is to reduce the exposure of workers to dangerous and/or remote environments, optimize maintenance, and enable just-in-time intervention.
Transmission Line Robots
The transmission line inspection robot is designed to travel on conductor shield wires along an 80-mile corridor at least twice per year. It will harvest power from shield wires and supplement that with solar panels. High-definition cameras and other equipment will identify problem trees, evaluate right-of-way encroachment, and assess component condition. Simple electromagnetic interference detectors will identify discharge activity and other indicators of faulty equipment. The robot will also collect data from remote instruments deployed along the line. This includes radio-frequency sensors on towers and lines to detect lightning strikes, wind damage, and corrosive conditions.
Additionally, EPRI is in the initial planning stages to evaluate the use of fixed-wing and rotary-wing unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and remote sensing technologies for certain transmission line inspections.
Underground Transmission Robots
Robotic systems are being designed to assist with the inspection and maintenance of underground transmission lines. These systems use an innovative track/rail system to allow the robot to follow a pre-programmed inspection path. The track may be a fixed rail system or a flexible wire system, and may use switches to direct the path. The robot may include, but not be limited to, optical image, infrared temperature, radio frequency interference, acoustic, hazard gas, and/or corrosion sensors and detectors.
These robots will reduce the need for human entry into vaults (manholes) and tunnels. Entry into these areas often requires that the circuit be taken out of service in order to ensure personnel safety, a process that can be costly.
EPRI's research into the use of robots in substations is in its early stages. To date, research has focused on the adaption of existing EPRI-developed sensors so that they may be carried by robots that travel independently around the substation. Future research will focus on development of the robot and on integration of the necessary sensors.