Brendan Englot, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, recently received a Consolidated Edison Company (“Con Edison”) grant with a total budget of $250,000 for his project “Automated Mobile Robot Inspection and Monitoring of Electric Substations.”
This research project will investigate the suitability of mobile robots to aid in the inspection and monitoring of indoor electric distribution substations. Mobile robots present the potential to perform a variety of critical inspection tasks at low cost and on demand, allowing for more frequent inspections, more comprehensive and persistent searching for anomalies, and a telepresence solution that allows engineers and technicians to view and process valuable data remotely without the need to be on site at a specific substation.
“The goal of this technology is to play the same role that an engineer or technician would play when they visit an electric distribution substation to perform an inspection: to ensure the substation is operating normally, and identify any anomalies,” Englot said. “However, a key difference is that a robotic inspection assistant can be deployed anytime, even in the middle of the night, and keep a close watch on the health of a substation more persistently than human technicians are able to, by virtue of the many demands on their time.”
During the course of this project, a prototype substation inspection robot will be developed, tested and demonstrated. The robot will be based on the widely used “Jackal” electric unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) platform from Clearpath Robotics, custom-instrumented with sensors and actuators by Stevens Institute of Technology, and equipped with intelligent navigation algorithms that will allow the robot to perform autonomous substation inspections.
“However, a key limitation is that the robot assistant cannot intervene to solve problems with the same efficacy that a human can; it will simply help to identify any anomalies that require attention, and alert personnel about them,” Englot added.
In order to ensure the success of this project, advanced and high-performance capabilities in autonomous mobile robot navigation are required.
“Our robot must be capable of localizing itself within the substation at all times, with high accuracy (which we will achieve using lidar), as well as planning collision-free paths and driving itself to key locations within the substation with high precision and repeatability,” Englot said. “Finally, the robot must also be capable of using the same hand-held sensors that technicians and engineers use to monitor the health of a substation, making physical contact with breaker panels within the station. This will require reliable grasping and manipulation, with the use of vision to ensure that the required measurements are being collected as intended.”
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