Meet Ratty the robot pipe inspector

Meet Ratty the Robot: an autonomous robotic rat that can scurry along underground pipes to carry out inspection work.

The brainchild of the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), Ratty is a tetherless, wheeled inspection robot with a laser-based navigation module, with the potential to carry out tasks in environments that would defeat most robots.

As Ratty can self-drive, it reduces the need for a human operator – who can instead focus on the inspection. It can automatically map complex pipework and tunnel systems, which have built up over many years.

The robot has the potential to bring cost and efficiency savings for utility companies as well as reducing human exposure to hazardous environments and preventing pipework leaks, according to its creators.

Tried and tested

MTC advanced robotics research engineer Dr Mahesh Dissanayake said: “This proof-of-concept robot can travel in confined spaces, inspecting networks while working fully autonomously. It opens up the opportunity of inspecting far more of the underground network at a much reduced cost, reducing failure rates and flagging up potential problems.

“With technology advancing all the time, the next exciting step could be a robot that not only inspects pipework, but is also capable of carrying out repairs remotely without having to dig up roads.”

The robot has successfully undertaken simulated trials at the Synthotech test facility in Yorkshire. Simon Langdale, engineering director at Synthotech, said: “It’s been great to put this proof of concept though its paces in a range of simulated environments. Automation of inspections for pipes is a key area that can help build better understanding of the complex infrastructure underground.

“We have been able to benchmark our current live access robotics against automated robotics and make sure that we can stay at the cutting edge with support from the MTC.”

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