If you see a UFO moving over your head, don’t look shocked. If everything goes well, robots that look like old UFOs could soon be skating along thousands of miles on overhead transmission lines in North America in the near future. Researchers at the Electric Power Research Institute in the US are developing a robot that is designed to fasten onto the shield wire above the main transmission line to protect it from lightning strikes.
Weighing some 65 kilograms, the two meters long robot will use rollers to crawl along the wire at a speed of five kilometers per hour. It will help in keeping a check on ageing lines and the high-risk vegetation near them for maintenance purposes, eliminating the need for some human inspection. Powered by energy harvested from the shield wire and with solar panels and batteries as backup, the robot comes equipped with high-definition cameras and sensors to locate overgrown trees and compare previous images of a power line with its present condition. A major cause of electrical outages is overgrown trees, so detecting them becomes extremely important.
In addition, the robot also detects electromagnetic noise that could indicate problems, so check for faulty connections becomes easier. In case of remote areas, it relays data to utilities via satellite and cell-phone signals. Initial testing is set for later this month, while for the commercial field testing we will have to wait till 2014. Coming with a price tag of $500,000, the robot will prove to be cheaper in the long run.