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Technology Factsheet

Cannonball

Category: Robotics > Characterization and Inspection > Underwater System
Reference # : Model No :

d’Arbeloff Laboratory are working on small, egg-sized robots designed to dive into nuclear reactors and swim through underground pipes, checking for signs of corrosion. The underwater patrollers, equipped with cameras, are able to withstand a reactor’s extreme, radioactive environment, transmitting images in real-time from within.

Site: *
Industry:Research
Size:Small (1-5kg/2lb-20lb, 10-30cm/4in-12in length )
TRL:Research (1-3)
TRL2: *
Tether: *
Waterproof: *
Payload: *
Reach: *
Manipulator: *

Benefits

Limitations

Comments

At first glance, the robotic inspector looks like nothing more than a small metallic cannonball. There are no propellers or rudders, or any obvious mechanism on its surface to power the robot through an underwater environment. Such “appendages,” common in many autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), are too bulky for his purposes — a robot outfitted with external thrusters or propellers would easily lodge in a reactor’s intricate structures, including sensor probes, networks of pipes and joints.

They decided to make the robot a smooth sphere, devising a propulsion system that can harness the considerable force of water rushing through a reactor. The group devised a special valve for switching the direction of a flow with a tiny change in pressure and embedded a network of the Y-shaped valves within the hull, or “skin,” of the small, spherical robot, using 3-D printing to construct the network of valves, layer by layer.

As the robot navigates a pipe system, the onboard camera takes images along the pipe’s interior.

To achieve movement they installed a two-axis gimbal in the body of the robot, enabling them to change the robot’s center of mass arbitrarily. With this setup, the camera, fixed to the outside of the robot, can pan and tilt as the robot stays stationary.

Depending on the direction they want their robot to swim, the researchers can close off various channels to shoot water through a specific valve. The high-pressure water pushes open a window at the end of the valve, rushing out of the robot and creating a jet stream that propels the robot in the opposite direction.

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