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Video: Maintenance Robots Climb Wind Towers
7/27/2012

GE Global Research has been conducting tests with International Climbing Machines' tower-climbing robots, which use vacuum force to adhere to wind towers.   (Source: International Climbing Machines)
GE Global Research has been conducting tests with International Climbing Machines' tower-climbing robots, which use vacuum force to adhere to wind towers.
(Source: International Climbing Machines)

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Beth Stackpole
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Not height adverse
Beth Stackpole   7/27/2012 7:14:01 AM
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Wow, love that image of the robot scaling the huge tower. We have a few really large wind towers in the town where I live and I've often wondered who the heck was going to go up and service the blades if there was a problem. Not only are there height issues, but what about wind and weather? This is a great application for robotics. Very cool.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Not height adverse
Ann R. Thryft   7/27/2012 12:55:33 PM
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Beth, when I pass by wind towers I've also wondered the same thing. They look difficult to access, and they are. This looks like a big improvement even over telescopes.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Not height adverse
Beth Stackpole   7/27/2012 3:24:34 PM
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I just was out running errands and saw a bucket truck of guys fixing a street lamp, but they were way up high and all I could think of was this robot. None of them looked happy to be up there and it was no where near as high as the wind towers. I'm sure they would have welcomed the sight of this robot.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Not height adverse
Ann R. Thryft   7/30/2012 12:54:59 PM
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Pole-climbing robots like those from ICM have already been used for several such tasks, climbing telephone poles and other utility poles. Helical Robots says in a press release that it is working on different platforms for its climbing robots "in the conventional energy space, shipping, and steel structure areas."

HelicalRobotics
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Re: Not height adverse
HelicalRobotics   7/31/2012 1:24:51 AM
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Beth, thank you for your intrest, we have looked at items such as light poles as well as many other items. Our technology can be scaled to this size with ease or made much larger than what is shown.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Not height adverse
Beth Stackpole   7/31/2012 8:08:23 AM
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Another application that came to my mind was window washing. Would that be a possibility or is it combining too many functions into one robot? Also, is there a limit of height?

HelicalRobotics
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Re: Not height adverse
HelicalRobotics   7/31/2012 8:27:40 AM
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Window washing is possible but not practical I don't think, and the height limit is the top:)

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Not height adverse
Ann R. Thryft   7/31/2012 12:39:20 PM
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HelicalRobots, thanks for diving in and answering readers' questions. Beth's window washing question brings up one I had: what is the theoretical height limit, meaning, what is the power source and how far can they travel on it (or what's the half-height limit, since they have to get down again)?

HelicalRobotics
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Re: Not height adverse
HelicalRobotics   7/31/2012 4:03:47 PM
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All of the current systems are battery powered and have a 4 hour continous run time. The climb rate is up to 753 inches per minute, or 3,780 ft per hour on our fastest robot. There are many other variables such as control range, but essentially our limitation is the height of the structure. We could convert the system to be tethered as well limiting us to that length, but currently there is no need.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Not height adverse
Ann R. Thryft   8/2/2012 12:00:25 PM
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Thanks, HelicalRobotics, for that input about steel and non-ferrous metal towers, as well as speed and climb rate.

jmiller
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Re: Not height adverse
jmiller   7/31/2012 8:22:00 PM
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I love the idea of window washing.  Think about some of the towers that are completely glass that still use a couple guys hanging from lines sitting in a bucket.

b-whiteside
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Iron
Re: Not height adverse
b-whiteside   7/30/2012 1:36:43 PM
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FYI.  From the turbine towers I have seen, routine access is using a ladder inside the tower - a long, long climb.  Workers can climb that and walk around inside the nacelle to work on the gearbox, atlernator, etc.  If they need to go outside, they abseil down on ropes.  The robot is still cool.

jmiller
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Re: Not height adverse
jmiller   7/31/2012 8:20:11 PM
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I've seen a couple shows demonstating how maintainance is done on these towers and the ability to use a robot would definitely be a way to get more done.  No need to call people down due to the wind if a robot is doing the work.

Greg M. Jung
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Sealing
Greg M. Jung   7/27/2012 10:52:48 PM
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Very interesting article which shows how a new energy technology can also spawn peripheral advances in other technologies areas.  I would be interested to see how the different holding technologies perform in the field over time.  I'm wondering how the vacuum technology will perform on a dirty/wet/moldy surface in unfavorable weather conditions.

Jack Rupert, PE
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Re: Sealing
Jack Rupert, PE   7/28/2012 6:03:50 PM
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Greg, I think the locomotive seal that they mention in the article "might" be sufficient to compensate for your concerns of dirt and moisture.  it would have been useful if they have mentioned a little more about it, since the vertical climbing is the key to this particular robot.  I was more concerned about the magnet version.  I wonder how long the industry is going be using ferrous towers / poles and if this technology might be limiting the application.

HelicalRobotics
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Re: Sealing
HelicalRobotics   7/31/2012 1:32:20 AM
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Jack, although there has been talk of other tower types, the wind industry has 100's of thousands of towers that are steel. The current size of this market as well as the vast number of tasks that robots like these can do more than creates a viable market, not to mention all the other industry applications. If needed however, we have designs for non-magnetic structures as well.

jmiller
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Re: Sealing
jmiller   7/31/2012 8:24:25 PM
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I also wanted to say thanks for joining this discussions.  It's great to get answers from the experts.  So the model show uses magneting technology to climb the fins while you have other models that can climb non-magnetic surfaces?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Sealing
Ann R. Thryft   8/1/2012 12:04:16 PM
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Like Greg, I was also curious and a bit skeptical about the holding technologies, both vacuum and magnetic, under various conditions. What about rain and sleet and snow?, although the vacuum seal does sound pretty strong. But like Jack, I wonder about the advance of non-ferrous metals.

HelicalRobotics
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Thank You
HelicalRobotics   7/31/2012 1:53:56 AM
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Ann, thank you for taking the time to report on our technologies. Our goal is to make infrastructure more efficient by reducing cost and increasing safety thru the use of robotic solutions. Innovation only happens with adoption and that takes awareness. Early reports mean a lot to us and I personally want to say thank you. Bruce A. Schlee President Helical Robotics

William K.
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Maintenance robotics
William K.   8/1/2012 10:15:04 PM
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I have seen a magnetic surface inspection "thing", and it does appear to hold on very well. The vacuum adhered robot would be much more flexible as to what it could climb on, but I can visualize a real problem if the power fails unexpectedly. That is a challenge that would need to be dealt with somehow. 

Robots could be designed for a large range of climbing operations, possibly including window washing on high buildings. So there is an existing area where robots could indeed provide a real benefit.

Charles Murray
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Climbing a tower
Charles Murray   8/15/2012 7:32:57 PM
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If you've wondered why a robot is a good idea for tower climbing, take a look at this video, which shows how a man climbs the world's tallest radio tower.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2A_h2AjJaMw

Ann R. Thryft
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Blogger
Re: Climbing a tower
Ann R. Thryft   8/16/2012 1:22:32 PM
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Wow, this is very scary. Must be a very special skillset: so what will happen to the people that are good at doing this if we have robots do it instead?

GopherT
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Silver
Re: Climbing a tower
GopherT   11/19/2012 12:53:13 PM
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What will happen to high climbers? The same thing that happened to the ice man, tv repair men and buggy whip manufacturers.  On top of that, the climbers will live out the rest of their days with much lower risk jobs!

The real question is, what kinds of jobs are CREATED by this technology.  Electrical engineers, Mechanical engineers, programmers, fabricators, materials scientists, ... 

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