Daniel Rechichi

Robotic partner in the tunnel

Senior Engineer, ROV Design, Water Corporation; BE (Electrical), Curtin University

The Water Corporation in Western Australia operates and maintains multiple unlined rock tunnels that are used to convey water.

When personnel crews are required to enter the tunnels for comprehensive asset condition assessments involving various tests and samples, or when remedial work needs to be conducted, the safety risk for these entry crews is high.

To manage this risk Daniel Rechichi, Senior Engineer, ROV Design, developed a robotic crawler used to conduct a complete visual assessment prior to any crews entering the tunnel.

The crawler can also identify potentials for rock falls or any other safety related issues that could affect the safety of the tunnel crew.

By allowing remote visual inspection and safer entry into tunnels, this robotic crawler enables the optimal frequency of inspection.

Once the initial assessment has been conducted and the tunnel deemed safe for entry, the crawler then accompanies the tunnel crew into the tunnel and stays with them for the duration of their works.

As a crucial member of the team, the robotic crawler provides numerous aids, including lights, cameras, power supply, communications, and safety equipment, while also towing a trailer for tool transport.

The robotic crawler is unique in that it is suitable for operating in tunnels with a diameter as small as 1.6 m. It has four-wheel independent drive and the ability to traverse through thick mud and small rocks and obstacles up to 200 mm in size.

Because it is articulated in the middle, it has sharp cornering capability, and it is also fitted with a hydraulically actuated blade for pushing larger rocks and debris out of the way.

The crawler is powered by onboard batteries with a capacity of 34 kWh, which enable around 25 hours of operation under standard conditions.

By allowing remote visual inspection and safer entry into tunnels, this robotic crawler enables the optimal frequency of inspection and remedial works to occur
while managing the safety risk of those activities.

Judges’ comments:

“The innovative robotic crawler presented here enables safer inspection of pipes and tunnels. It has been fi eld tested and provides high-quality video to enable better decision-making with respect to allocating resources. This benefits the community in two ways: by increasing the reliability of water supply and decreasing the costs of providing such a system.

“It also eliminates the need for a substantial amount of confi ned-spaces work for workers; further, due to the multipurpose nature of the crawler, it also facilitates work that requires human intervention.”

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