Inspection of high-voltage power lines is costly, difficult, and a dangerous job even for skilled workers. Which means it’s the perfect job for a robot.
We first wrote about Expliner, an incredible inspection robot that balances on power lines like an acrobat, more than a year ago. Since then, HiBot, the Japanese company that developed Expliner, has gone on several inspection jobs, remote operating the robot as it crawls on 500-kilovolt live lines.
The company is now gearing up to deliver the robot to customers, first in Japan, and later abroad as well.
Expliner is like a wheeled cable car that rolls along the upper pair of bundled cables. In addition to its manipulator arm, it carries laser sensors, to spot corrosion or scratches, and a high-definition camera, which records details of bolts and spacers far more effectively than even a human worker.
HiBot says that Expliner is a semi-autonomous robot.
“There is always a human in the control loop, but the basic repetitive tasks are automated,” says Michele Guarnieri,” a HiBot co-founder. “Tasks that require a high degree of precision, like maintaining balance or moving parts to a certain angle, are also automated.”
He explains that the robot can inspect up to four cables simultaneously, and software automatically checks all recorded videos and alert users about potential damages or problems on the lines.
HiBot has recently released a new video that shows off the robot’s capabilities, including being able to go over cable suspension clamps through a series of acrobatic maneuvers using a dangling counterweight to shift the robot’s center of gravity. Watch:
HiBot, which spun off from the laboratory of Tokyo Tech roboticist Shigeo Hirose (known for his incredible snakebots), has recently won an award for the Expliner robot from Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry.
And if you’re wondering, “Expliner doesn’t fall,” claims Guarnieri. “It’s equipped with safety devices that prevent the robot from falling, even in case of strong winds.”
Images and video: HiBot
Erico Guizzo is the Director of Digital Innovation at IEEE Spectrum, and cofounder of the IEEE Robots Guide, an award-winning interactive site about robotics. He oversees the operation, integration, and new feature development for all digital properties and platforms, including the Spectrum website, newsletters, CMS, editorial workflow systems, and analytics and AI tools. An IEEE Member, he is an electrical engineer by training and has a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.