Sep 1, 2004

An autonomous robot could soon save businesses millions of dollars in the inspection of pipelines. Houston-based itRobotics is developing a robot that can travel tether-free, without operator intervention, for kilometers inside tubing and small-diameter pipes, making inspections cheaper and easier and detecting some flaws that aren’t detectable from the outside. The trainlike prototype, designed for pipes five to six centimeters across, pulls one or more carts loaded with sensors that detect changes in, for example, magnetic flux, which can indicate wall thinning or cracks. The robot’s proprietary locomotion system and onboard computer allow it to decide whether to proceed, slow down, stop, or even reverse. The company plans to introduce its first inspection robot, for the oil and gas industry, this fall. Future versions could inspect plant equipment such as the boilers and heat exchangers found in refineries, chemical plants, and desalinization plants.