Saturday, January 12, 2019

Robots of the World - Pipe Inspection Robots

Robots of the World ...  

Robots are becoming more and more everyday. The first use cases have been in the automation of welding and painting in manufacturing. These are dangerous jobs with hazardous materials or processes that require repetitive tasks. Perfect for robotic automation.

When it comes to first use cases for roving robots, the inspection of hazardous and difficult locations will be at the top of th list. Today you can see immediate applications in the inspection of offshore oil rigs, constructions sites, decommissioning of nuclear reactors, and underwater inspections.


Inuktun - Versatrax150 - Pipe Inspection Robot

One class of remote inspection is pipe and sewer inspection. Like anything underground, these are dirty, constrained, dangerous, sometimes flooded environments. There currently are a collection of commercial pipe inspection machines, and robots are starting to fill this need. (picture above: Inuktun Versatrax 150)


A report with great detail
In Dec 2017, the Department of Transportation of Ohio (USA), created a report on the available robotic equipment that can be used in the inspection of culverts, pipes, and other underground conduits. The report contains a good overview of the time of vendors, types of equipment, best use recommendations, and cost.

The PDF report can be found here:  
Evaluation of New or Emerging Remote Inspection Technologies for Conduits Ranging from 12” to 120” Spans

Common traits
Each of the Robot come from different designers and companies, but all share a basic set of requirements.  The robots need to be able to reliably withstand the environment they are placed in. They must be able to traverse the pipe or culvert which can be wet, slippery, or obstructed. They must be able to carry a high quality camera for visual inspection. They must be able to carry a payload of other sensors such as pipe thickness ultrasound, laser measurement, and gas detection sensors. They must either have on board power or a power teather. They have to convey all of this information back to the operator. Like doctors, they should 'cause no harm' to the environment they are in. Which means they must no get stuck!

The common designs:

  • High Traction - typically crawlers with tracked treads, some with magnetic treads for pipes
  • Rough Terrain - requiring high clearance and ability to climb over obstacles
  • Waterproof/water-tight - These bots go into flooded culverts, sewers, mains, etc. 
  • Small - to be used in very small pipes and culverts
  • Modular - components can be quickly added and removed in the field
  • Tethered - to be removed if their drive systems fail (interesting lack of automation)


Inspection Payload:

  • camera, cameras, etc
  • Laser measurement
  • Sonar
  • Gas Sensors
  • Temperature
  • sensors sensor sensors


Market and Cost The cost of these robots have a dramatic range.  Units can cost as low as $15,000 USD, to as high as $500,000 USD.  The variation in cost often is associate with size and capability. It is hard to determine reliability from the marketing material. It would look to be fairly typical that the total cost of ownership of one of these mid size systems would be around $200,000 USD.

This cost range would acceptable for large construction companies and governments. It would produce a potential rental business, or specialty inspections companies that would have high reuse. Certainly, at these price points there would be an opportunity for innovative solutions to disrupt this industry.

Some of the more impressive models:

Inuktun

RedRobot

Deep Trekker

Final Thoughts:
This market is soon to be expanded. As lower cost robotics become available, it would be possible to expand the market to users with lower operational cost thresholds. Markets such as property inspection have not yet been exploited. In addition, these robots will only become the remote sensors for a larger aggregation of operational and geospatial data. Ultimately, it will not just the robot technology that is considered, but the data management platform as well.






Sunday, December 23, 2018

Robot Arcade - LetsRobot.tv

I am creating a "Robot Arcade" on LetsRobot.tv as a holiday project!  You can visit the site LIVE here:


Robot Arcade - LetsRobot.tv
It is a work in progress, but works well to get all of the robot fantasy out of your head.  I am building this "robot" with mostly parts from recycled printers and some 3D printed parts.  It is using an L298N as the motor controller.  All driven by a Raspberry Pi that is streaming video and controls between it and the LetsRobot.tv servers. I will be using MQTT to pipe commands from the server to various computers controlling the scene.

In the first boot strap days, it was 'challenged' by the 'internet' robot operators.  my motors were not secured and were dancing around the scene.  Actually somewhat fun.  Today I put together this motor mount design and will be using it to build out the Arcade.

3D CAD designed to be a motor mount

I don't quite know what I will do with this yet, but I would like it to be some form of a remote robot - 'game of skill'.  it is fun to see some form of a battle or skill challenge performed by the remote operators.

I am open to suggestions for game ideas!  :)

Monday, December 17, 2018

Centi (#1) - A Bio-Inspired Centipede Robot

Centipede!

I have always wanted to build a Centipede type robot.  It would combine a walking and turning mechanism. And be able to scurry around through obstacles and dreams. Now that I am a self-styled robotist with a 3D printer, I can build one!

DESIGN

Basically, the robot needs to support its weight and payload, be able to move forward/backward, and then steer to the left/right. The target motive force is a single/duo of dc brushed motors, with connectors between the 'segments'. It needs to carry a camera, lights, speakers, for streaming. It needs controller, wifi, RPI(?), and battery / portable power. 

Right now, I am satisfied with it "scurrying" about. But, getting those legs tangled in vertical things will be a future problem. I am not going to worry about that in the first prototypes.

The key to this design will be how to create the basic rotational motion of the leg to Lift-Place-Move each of the legs.  First thoughts had a pair of rotational gears, one to lift the legs, the other to move forward-backward.

Initial thoughts for Leg Motion, placement, and mechanisms
I created a couple of drafts on the cam/lifter/crankshaft thoughts.  But, this seems to be overly complex.  It needed simplicity.

Ball and Socket

The simplest thought would be to have a gear/cam spinning and moving a lever arm of the leg, that is suspended by a ball and socket arrangement. The most immediate concern would be the amount of friction in the ball/socket. This could be managed with some grease. future designs could even use metal or teflon to reduce the friction.  To the CAD!

First draft of the ball/socket - OpenSCAD
The plan is to 3D print a single full leg segment for testing and Prototyping. I am using a 'chopstick' for the leg.

First print for the prototype - Test, Adjust, and Print again!
The first rough print yielded some immediate feedback. The socket will need to be wider to better contain the ball.  but, sizing on ball for a chopstick style let was right.  I was playing wth an old cam print for sizing, this will go next into the design.  I am also thinking that having a modular/adjustable leg segment will be important.  But, I do not want to get too far ahead in the design there are still a lot of moving variables.

Internet inspiration:
Festo BioFinWave


here are some companies doing somethings with various linkages, but provide a 'fin' that can move on fluid surfaces:



It will be along way for me to go, compared to these systems.

Friday, November 23, 2018

TNERA now Robocasting on Letsrobot.tv

The Totally Not Evil Robot Army is now on LetsRobot.tv

you can now drive one of the robot, or many other enthusiast robots through the robot streaming system.




I have converted the original RC Cart Robot - Polybot, to be on LetsRobot.tv.

Polybot


check out the site (Polybot on LetsRobot.tv) and if the robot is streaming you can control it.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Are Remote Robot Games a 'Thing' yet?

In the past 2-3 years there is a convergence of technologies that are enabling the streaming and control of robots through the internet.  However, remote robotic control, for fun purposes like gaming is still in its infancy.  Why is this?  Why is remote reality gaming and robotic gamings still not a 'thing' (yet)?

The Convergence:
Maker based Robot Creation, Home internet broadband capability, low cost of components, converging with YouTube Streaming, Twitch Game Play, as well as the introduction of chatbots, AI, and ML are converging to make the concept of remote robot games a reality.

I would start to differentiate these as webcams on robots, exploring with robots, and games with robots.  The control of the robot could be observational, or first person.

The most basic - watching robot games on TV, like the picture below. This is very basic robo-sport.  It could be interesting, but in the current state is not very engaging.



I think the real interest in being able to engage with the robot from the internet.  Being able to steer it, perform some action, and potentially meet some (game) objective.

Robospatium
The best example of that in a non-commercial setting would have to be at Homofaciens.de. Homofaciens has build an environment (Robospatium) where you can remotely through the internet connect to a rover-robot and steer it around.  These robots have be working for many years, probably one of, or the first of its kind.  In addition to the robot rover, Homofaciens has a wealth of information for physical computing.  Norbert has a very successful YouTube channel with great videos on building your own robots from everyday items.
R11 Rover - Image from Homofaciens.de
Check it out >> the Original!  In English and German
Homofacian's Robospatium  (https://homofaciens.de/robospatium_en.htm)



Let's Robot.TV - https://letsrobot.tv/

letsrobot.tv is the work of Jillian Ogle. She has been featured on the cover of Make Magazine. She is setting out (like the rest of us) to make robots accessible to everyone, fun and enjoyable.  Letsrobot.tv is a platform where you can view and control remotely robots that are created and 'living' in robocaster's locations. 

There is a heathly community of robot enthusiast developing around Letsrobot.tv. Easy instructions are available how to create and add your own robot to the letsrobot.tv platform. In addition to open source code for the development of the robot, runmyrobot, on Github.



The platform supports a chat function allowing you to participate in the control of the robots with others. Having some of the local tokens, you can steer the robots and have them say things.

There are a few varieties of robots available on the platform.  This would include "The Claw" game, where you can remotely operate a claw arcade game and try to grab prizes from with in.

The letsrobot.tv platform is just gearing up now.  It has received a lot of publicity from MAke and the Makers fair.  It is notable that the platform is handling the video streaming quiet well.  This is one of the more important elements of a remote controlled robot.



Twitch Generation
It seems that the natural platform for the streaming of remotely controlled robots would be Twitch.tv.  Twitch is the streaming platform for electronic games where you can watch professionals and amateurs play video games.  Truly a sign of the times, Twitch itself is the convergence of streaming and gaming communities. To add to this, Twitch has added a creative channel that provides a means for artists and craftsman to stream their creations. So, it would be natural for a robot to stream as well - especially an internet controlled robot.  (Twitch is not alone, YouTube also realizes the value in streaming gaming)


TheOtherLoneStart - Twitch Chat controlled robot battles

One Twitch streamer has recognized this next step and created a Twitch chat controller robot, and associated gaming feature.  If you tune into TheOtherLoneStar twitch streaming channel you may find him building robots, or hosting a battle between his robots.  All for fun, you can certainly internet remote control the bots and have fun with them.  He also has videos of the builds, play action, and a HackaDay project.

Remote Games
Finally there is a new style of remote robotic games that have been created by "Remote Games".  Remote Games is a Ukrainian company that is also "living the dream".  They have created a game that allows for up to 10 (20?) special robot explore and compete an a intricately designed set based on a ghost town near Chernobyl. (yes, the site of the nuclear melt down)


Hyper real set from Remote Games - Image from Remote Games

The hyper-real set is amazing!  Here, with a subscription, you can explore the ghost town with a robot tank and compete in real time with others in different game formats.  The game company is planning to offer franchises of their gaming platform for others to operate their own arenas.  I would liken the model to that of 'laser tag' business plan, but with an Internet audience.

Interesting to note, one of the founder stated "we noticed how quickly remote-controlled game robots are gaining popularity". I think that there view point matches many in the maker/robot community.  we are only just now starting to see the new use cases of robots, robot games, and remotely controlled robots.  

I think it will soon become a 'thing'.