Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Robotic Crawlers Assess New Orleans Power Lines Damaged by Katrina

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Robotic Crawlers Assess New Orleans Power Lines Damaged by Katrina

Article excerpt

NEW ORLEANS

Though undetected damage to power lines caused by hurricanes, landslides, wind storms and other calamities may not disrupt power transmission in the short term, they can become an ongoing cause of power outages if not found and fixed. Last month, scientists from the University of Washington tested "robotic crawlers" on power lines at a National Aeronautics and Space Administration facility in New Orleans to evaluate the robots' capacity to detect damage to power cables. The crawlers are robots that propel themselves along miles of cable, conducting a check-up of the power lines.

"This is the first robot built that can inspect power cables autonomously, looking for incipient failures. It can find cables that may need repair, before they cause problems," says Dr. Alexander Mamishev, an associate professor of electrical engineering at UW.

Mamishev directs the university's Sensors, Energy and Automation Laboratory, which develops robots and network sensors to monitor infrastructure such as power cables, roads and bridges.

Although the prototype robot had been developed over the past five years and tested on underground power lines on UW's campus, New Orleans was chosen for the field test because of the widespread damage to the city's power system after Hurricane Katrina. More than a year after the storm, researchers say conditions in the city remain unsafe around power lines.

UW's robots pinpoint problem spots by using information from the surface of a cable to assess its internal condition. …

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