A team led by Javad Mohammadpour, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, has designed, prototyped and tested a robot that can glide along electrical lines, searching for problems or performing routine maintenance.
The self-propelled robot looks like a miniature cable car and is approximately the size of a coffee maker—much smaller and lighter than similar devices now used by utility companies.
“This is a tool that’s small enough for a single utility worker to pack in a truck or van and use daily,” Mohammadpour said. “Some of the robots currently in use weigh 200 to 300 pounds while our robot is only 20 to 25 pounds.”
Equipped with a spinning brush, the robot can clear utility lines of vegetation, bird droppings, salt deposits—a problem particular to coastal areas—or other debris that may degrade the line.
It also has an onboard camera that allows crews to closely inspect potential problem areas. The robot is wireless and can be controlled by a smartphone, tablet or laptop.