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Piper-bot Inspection Robot.

By Juan Pablo Angulo

This project was developed as a request from a construction company in charge of

installing 20 km of piping for a water treatment plant in Saltillo, Mexico. The company
had to make sure the ducts were in place and properly installed after placing them 3 to 7
meters underground. Duct diameters ran from 18” to 64” and material was a black
polymer, sometimes after burying the ducts with certain rush, pressure from the material
would collapse a duct, but it was hard to notice since it was already 5 metes
underground. Inspection wells were placed in the pipes, however the distance between
them exceeded 250 feet. Its hard to tell if a duct is not properly installed when looking
at it in pitch dark.

Construction time was a merely 4 weeks and it was sold and delivered just in time for
testing the installed ducts.

Piper-bot was constructed using laser cut materials, and was powered by 4 fixed geared
motors with high traction wheels. It carried an EVI-D30 High Quality Sony PTZ
camera on board with a 2.4 GHz High Power Video transmitter. Two high intensity
MAGlite white LEDs provided enough light to clearly see details inside the ducts. An
SRF05 ultrasonic sensor attached to the front of Piper-bot provided diameter
measurements of the ducts, while an Memsic Accelerometer provided information
regarding roll and pitch angles. Battery information was also sampled using an
ADC0831 and a resistor ladder. An odometer was developed in order to register
approximate distance to dig from the inspection well in case there was need for a duct
fix. Motor control was delegated to a Motor Mind C controller from solutions cubed,
while camera PTZ commands were send via infrared through an specific application
PIC (instead of using the VISCA port). All the collected data was superimposed on the
video signal using a BOB-II video card prior to transmitting. Commands arrived to
Piper-bot via 900MHz Full Duplex Aerocomm modems.

A BASIC Stamp II was in charge of everything on the robot, it received ASCII

commands through modem, and performed the associated tasks, from the turning on the
video camera and sending it pan-tilt-zoom commands or view presets, to reading the
ultrasonic sensor and calculating diameter in centimeters, calculating roll and pitch
angles, monitoring the battery charge, formatting and sending all data to BOB-II video
card and sending commands to the MMC to move the robot inside the pipe.

Redundant check of command-base communication was important (since we didn’t

want to crawl to retrieve a lost Piper-bot in the middle of a 18” diam. 250 feet pipe), in
case signal from the command base was lost, Piper-bot would begin a routine in which
it would wait a few seconds to see if signal reappeared, otherwise it would start
navigating autonomously through the pipe until it would reach the end. In a low battery
condition a warning is displayed on the video signal so the operator takes precautions,
in case of extreme low battery condition Piper-would take command and turn the
camera and both lights off in order to stop battery depletion and use the remaining
energy to reach the end of the duct in an autonomous navigation pattern.

On the command-base side, another BASIC Stamp II reads data from a Parallax Mini
keyboard, it then proceeds to send this data through the Aerocomm modem and wait for
confirmation or acknowledgment from Piper-bot. If no acknowledgement is received
the command is sent a few more times until its dropped. When no new commands are
entered, command base’s BASIC Stamp II sends a beacon command, so Piper-bot
knows the command base is still within range; if nothing is received for a while, Piper-
bot begins its autonomous navigation routine.

A Video Receiver sits at the command base, with an LCD screen that displays real-time
video and superimposed information. An optional Video Recorder can be connected to
make videos of the inspections. Batteries for both Piper-bot and Command base are Ni-
MH 6 cell type.

Video available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFoatBF8xo8