Snakes on a plant

10 July 2013

A modular snake robot has performed well in trials where it explored nuclear power plant pipework.

Snake robot (Carnegie Mellon) 250x188
The robot is 5 cm in diameter, 93 cm long and counts 16 modular segments
(Image: Carnegie Mellon University)

Crawling distances of up to 18 metres through pipework at the Zwentendorf training centre, the robot negotiated bends and open valves while sending back high quality video which was processed to provide a 'right-side-up' view to operators. It is powered and controlled via long cable known as a tether.

Carnegie Mellon University developed the robot and chose the Zwentendorf site in Austria for trials. As a compete boiling water reactor that was never operated, the plant represents an accurate and radiologically clean environment for training, testing and research.

In terms of inspection, Carnegie said the robot performed better than a more traditional methods: "It can go up and round multiple bends, something you can't do with a conventional borescope that can only be pushed though a pipe like a wet noodle," said Carnegie's Howie Choset.

Choset's team are working on developments to allow underwater operation and the addition of a 'runner' device to guide the snake's tether round corners and ensure the machine can always be retrieved. Similar snake robot technology is under development elsewhere, for example OC Robotics' LaserSnake project that benefits from partial funding via the UK's industrial strategy.

Robots, drones and other remote controlled equipment have a growing range of applications in the nuclear field, particularly in decommissioning, where highly detailed information may be required to be gathered from inaccessible or radioactive spaces.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News