Pipeline Exploration Robot
Regular inspection of pipelines is key factor in ensuring safe transport and finding pipe leakages or blockages for a wide variety of applications e.g. Oil and Gas transport. Using pipeline exploration robots to enter pipelines and carry out inspection work with HD cameras, greatly increases efficiency and quality of inspection. A pipeline exploration robot system includes a control station and a robot.
A control station is (a single board computer or a PC) responsible for receiving, storing and displaying video signals sent by robots as well as controlling robots’ behavior by sending instructions.
A pipeline exploration robot consists of a multimedia application processor, status and environment information, camera and a communication system. The application processors control robots’ movements and operate the camera system based on the instructions sent by control station, while simultaneously sending robot status and encoded video signals back to control station. Pipeline exploration robots usually use wheels or caterpillar tracks as their moving system because gas/oil pipelines always have large diameters. An individual moving system of this kind is equipped with multiple brushless motors to ensure the capability of overcoming obstacles. Status and environment information system is composed of a rotary encoder, an electronic compass, a 3 axis accelerometer and temperature & humility sensors. The system can provide general information about robots’ location, speed and inclination angle, temperature & humility data which are helpful for the operators to make decisions on robot behavior control. Camera system consists of motion control and video processing units, usually coupled with ultrasonic sensor to detect the thickness status of pipeline. The motion control unit has a servo motor to adjust camera’s height and rotation so that all the areas in pipelines could be scanned by camera. The task of video signal processing is handled by imaging sensor and multimedia application processor which work together to implement video capture, signal conversion and encoding processes. In order to achieve better communication quality and longer distance, the encoded video and control signals are combined into a single signal by a FPGA included in communication system, and then processed by a serializer to produce LVDS (Low Voltage Differential Signal) to be transmitted through twisted-pair cables. If signals have to travel a much longer distance, fiber-optic cables could be a good option as it can cover distances up to several kilometers.
As the robotics technology develops, future pipeline exploration robots would feature more sophisticated A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), making them the capable of ‘thinking and working’ with minimum human intervention.