Confined space automation is one of the most challenging areas of robotics. Current technology struggles to produce robots capable of moving in confined spaces yet also have the stability to carry out high-force process such as drilling, sanding and media blasting. Southwest Research Institute is solving these challenges by offering innovative systems tailored made for challenging processes in energy, manufacturing and other industries. These include high-payload systems for custom sensors and systems with active bracing for stability while carrying out high-payload processes.
What is a Confined Space?
In robotics, a confined space is an enclosed areas with limited access. In this context, “limited” means that a human cannot easily transport the system into the area and set it up in a repeatable way. Some examples of confined spaces include pipes, tanks, ballast compartments of ships and internal cavities of bridges. These areas are frequently too small for a human to enter and at the very least uncomfortable for a human to work in. While some confined spaces, such as pipes, may have uniform geometry, many, such as ballast compartments, have complex shapes with a wide range of ribs, curves, and elevated hatchways.
Robots in Confined Spaces
Visual inspection system such as quadcopters, tracked robots or snake robots can be used to navigate an area and gather information. However, because these systems are not anchored, they are limited in the tasks they can perform. Visualize a snake robot trying to use a drill or a quadcopter with a pressure washer and it is apparent these systems are uncontrollable when carrying out a process with a significant reaction force. In most applications, a confined space robot for high load applications must interact with its environment to stabilize itself without the need for external modifications.
Solving the Problem
SwRI specializes in developing confined space robotics system custom tailored to challenging applications and difficult environments. Our multidisciplinary team is skilling in custom design, advanced path planning and custom process development. We provide solutions to complex problems in:
- Confined radioactive environments
- Complex tanks and enclosures
- Internal pressure washing and cleaning
- Inspection with heavy or hazardous payloads
- Internal removal of coatings for confined spaces