NEW PRODUCTS AND INNOVATIONS Safety inspection demand drives robotic solution 5 Mar 2014
- A European research project led by scientists from the University of Madrid is developing a prototype intelligent robot system for the automated safety inspection of highway, rail and subway tunnels.
ROBINSPECT intelligent robot system
- The program, named ROBINSPECT, has secured €5 million of funding from the 7th Framework Programme for Research (FP7) of the European Commission, and developers from the 11 participating companies and educational institutions involved in the project aim to test a prototype model by the end of this year (2014).
- Among the partners, from the tunnelling side, are engineering and infrastructure design consultant Halcrow (UK), and the Hagerbach Test Gallery (Switzerland).
- The project is driven by the heavy demands currently being placed upon the tunnel inspection industry to carry out detailed assessments of the growing amount of ageing transportation tunnel infrastructure that is now beginning to show visible signs of deterioration, and which is becoming subject to ever-tighter safety regulation and controls.
- "The automated ROBINSPECT system will allow a single pass tunnel inspection to be carried out automatically without stopping traffic," said the head of the project at the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid (UC3M), Carlos Balaguer, a tenured professor in the Department of Systems Engineering and Automation.
Sensory system detects and measures cracks with pinpoint accuracy
- "In addition to these advantages, the quality of the inspection offered by the automated robotic system will be greater, given that it is carried out by a high-precision multisensory system that can detect tiny fissures and deformities in the structure that are not visible to the naked eye.
- "Currently, maintenance and safety inspection of tunnels used for vehicular traffic is carried out by direct in situ observation. This process, which is slow and requires intensive labour, requires that traffic be stopped on entire sections of underground infrastructure, resulting in an inconvenience for users."
- ROBINSPECT brings together the latest advances in intelligent robotics, computer vision and active continuous learning and sensing, to deliver a vehicle-mounted system that automatically scans the surface of the interior of a tunnel for potential defects and detects and measures with pinpoint accuracy radial deformation in the cross-section, distance between parallel cracks, and cracks and open joints that impact tunnel stability.
Detecting cracks invisible to the naked eye
- The system is made up of three components: a vehicle, a small crane and a robotic arm. The crane will allow inspection to be carried out from a distance of approximately 5m and will hold the weight of the system's key element: the robotic arm. "This will be equipped with an extensive sensorial system (vision, ultrasound and tactile) and will provide the precision and intelligent movement that will be needed to carry out inspections in tunnels," said Juan Víctores, an engineer from the UC3M Robotics Laboratory, which is in charge of the intelligent control of the robotics components of the system.
- A complete prototype will be ready for preliminary testing at the end of this year (2014). These tests will be carried out in three locations: the London Underground, three sections of the Greek Egnatia highway tunnel and in experimental tunnels of the VSH at the Hagerbach Test Gallery in Switzerland. "The final demonstrators of the project will be mostly highway tunnels, which would make the tunnels of the M-30 in Madrid a good place to do the final testing of the system," said VÍctores.
- "The existing huge need and large market for inspection and assessment of ageing transportation tunnels with visible signs of deterioration at a time when there are limited funds and manpower able to do the job, presents a big opportunity to the robotics industry," he added.
Robotising maintenance of TBM cutting tools - TunnelTalk, May 2013
EC awards ambitious R&D programme - TunnelTalk, October 2012
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