Automation: Microbot Infrastructure Inspection
The Microbot Infrastructure Inspection Project is a work unit within the Navigation Systems Research Program at Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The goal of the work unit is to develop microbots, small VTOL UAS, that can navigate autonomously by collecting lidar and imagery data used for localization as well as be analyzed either during time-of-flight, “virtual” or post-flight inspection of infrastructure. Visual inspection of USACE’s critical, difficult-to-inspect infrastructure components often include dark, featureless space such as tunnels and penstocks as well as hard to reach, often GPS/GLONASS restricted, tainter gates, bridge girders, and locks. Inspections of these infrastructures pose risks to personnel safety, are time consuming, and significantly add to project cost. Penstocks are often circular steel structures that transport water from the upstream side of a dam to the downstream side. These structures can be complex with multiple horizontal and vertical sections that negate the use of line of sight UAS. In a collaborative effort with University of Pennsylvania’s General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception (GRASP)Lab, USACE has been testing the use of microbots to map and inspect these penstocks. Automation has been accomplished using high resolution lidar and cameras as input for pose estimation, visual odometry and Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) algorithms. Deliverables include post-processed, stitched images and videos at the moment with a goal of having “virtual reality” inspection to determine potential compromises in the penstock’s crucial coatings.
This presentation will discuss:
– A history of the Microbot Infrastructure Inspection project
– System design and testing
– Brief discussion on algorithmic development
– Current status and future directions