Serpentine robot for automatic and precise mapping of complex pipeline structures

Developed for daily inspections and emergencies in case of a natural disaster

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Because of its geographical location, Japan is one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries. The Tough Robotics Challenge (TRC) of the Impulsing Paradigm Change through Disruptive Technologies Program (ImPACT), led by the Council for Science, Technology and Innovation of Japan’s Cabinet Office, aims to develop essential technologies for remote autonomous robots that are robust, so that it can function even in extreme disaster conditions.

This time, the TRC researchers succeeded in developing a snake-like robot that localizes itself in and maps complex pipeline structures. Professor Hiroshi Okuno from the Faculty of Science and Engineering is a part of this program.

The researchers wrapped a skin-type pressure sensor around the robot, so that it can move forward in complex pipeline structures that include curves, and improved visualization display of the collected data. Furthermore, Professor Okuno is a member of the team responsible for developing a simultaneous localization and mapping technology (integrated SLAM) which helps the robot to automatically map and accurately localize itself in a pipeline structure by combining data on distance, direction and position using an acoustic sensor, inertial measurement unit, and a multi-joint model.

Although further developments, such as waterproof and dust-proof functions of autonomous control in various environments using collected data from different sensors, self-test and recovery functions in case of breakdowns and task failure, as well as an intuitive and convenient user-interface minimizing burden on the operator, are needed, the robot is expected to be used in pipelines of plant facilities for daily inspections and emergencies in case of a natural disaster in the future.

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