This Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I project is to investigate innovative approaches and provide a research-based foundation for developing a reliable and versatile wall-climbing machine that can scale odd surfaces (with deep cracks, ledges), carry large payload of testing equipment, reach hard-to-access places to carry out various non-destructive testing/evaluation (NDT/NDE) tasks to ensure the sustainability of human-built infrastructure. The technical innovations include: 1) new drivetrain using foam tread and a rotor package which not only produce strong adhesion but also helps to eliminate the acoustic/vibration interference between the climbing robot and impact-echo measurements; 2) the fault tolerance feature of multiple chamber seals in the drivetrain that allows the robot to cross deep gaps without loss of adhesion; 3) the differential drive locomotion using two drivetrains enables the robot to carry much larger payload of testing equipment; 4) the combination of impeller and propeller provides a means for the robot to cope with ledges and allows re-attachment with the wall if the robot accidentally loses contact; 5) the use of tether helps the distribution of payload among cable and robot adhesion mechanism and enhances the operation reliability.
The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is that it allows inspections of human-built infrastructure to be performed significantly faster and more thorough at a lower cost by eliminating the use of scaffolds. It also improves safety by removing the need for inspectors to scale high-rise buildings/structures to perform exterior inspections. In addition to visual inspection of surface flaws, the climbing machine will be able to detect subsurface defects (i.e., cracks, delamination, voids) using other NDT instruments such as impact-echo devices or ground penetrating radar (GPR). A group of such wall-climbing robots can do the inspection task simultaneously while avoid the scaffolding, thus saving time and money, making the national civil infrastructure more secure. New York City and many other cities in the world have laws that mandates the facade inspection of high-rise buildings every 5 years. The aging infrastructure and residential apartments lower than 6 stories in USA and around the world also have strong needs for inspection and property maintenance. Considering the number of buildings to be inspected every year, and over millions of buildings, bridges and tunnels in the country and around the world that require continuous maintenances and inspection, the market of the wall-climbing robot technology is vast.
Numerous civil structures in USA and around the world are reaching their life expectancy, and thus have strong needs for routine inspection and maintenance to ensure sustainability. The current practice of manual inspections are time consuming, expensive, and often require the use of extensive scaffolding, leading to human safety concerns. Advances to robotic technologies are needed to automate the inspection process and thereby decreasing costs, increasing the inspection speed and improving safety. With the funding support of this STTR Phase-I grant, InnovBot has developed Rise-Rover, a new wall-climbing robot that provides vertical mobility and allows inspections to be performed significantly faster, safer and more thorough, at a lower cost, by eliminating the use of scaffolds. The innovation of Rise-Rover prototype is the fault tolerant design using two drivetrain modules with custom designed soft light-weight silicon rubber treads to carry heavy NDT instrument. Each module uses a conformable tread and multiple suction/chamber seals that allow the robot to cross over gaps/grooves/cracks without loss of adhesion. The introduction of ducted fans allows for re-attachment to the wall surface for increased reliability. The innovative engineering research has advanced the state-of-the-art robotic wall-climbing technology and produced a reliable climbing machine that can scale odd surfaces (with gaps, ledges), carry heavy payload of NDT instrument, and reach hard-to-access places, take close-up pictures and detect subsurface defects. A group of such wall-climbing robots can do the inspection task simultaneously while avoiding scaffolds, saving time and money, making the national civil infrastructure more secure.