I've heard it said that 3D printing will be the next industrial revolution. Looking at inventors like Nick Morozovsky, that's pretty easy to believe. The UC San Diego graduate student has invented a new type of robot using nothing but an arduino motor, a store-bought battery, and a 3D printer.
The prototype - which he's nicknamed Skysweeper - is designed to move along cables in a manner that very closely resembles a real-world inchworm. The V-shaped robot uses a small motor at its elbow to run wheels connected to actuated clamps on both arms, while onboard sensors calculate the angle of the robot so the arduino processor knows which way to run the motor. In the future, Morozovsky believes that his robot could further automate power line inspection, keeping an eye on cables at a fraction of current costs.
"Current line inspection robots are large, complex, and expensive," he explained. "Existing robots that do power line inspection have many motors and many degrees of freedom, which makes them expensive....these robots can cost upwards of tens of thousands of dollars, whereas Skysweeper would cost around $1,000."
"Potential applications for this robot would be power line inspection or communication line inspection, or possibly suspension bridges."
Of course, Skysweeper's got some serious development ahead of it before its ready to be put to such purposes. Field designs of Skysweeper would need to be tough enough to weather through the elements for extended periods of time, while also including additional sensors and cameras to check power lines for damage. Furthermore, the current design - which can only connect to a single cable - is largely impractical; Morozovsky intends to reinforce and modify the clamps to allow the robot to potentially swing past junctions.
Further, Morozovsky feels that future models might be able to power themselves entirely from the lines they're investigating, allowing them to remain in the field for extended periods of time and cutting down on maintenance.
My only question is how they'll cut down on theft and vandalism of the bots. Admit it - you know plenty of people who'd jump at the opportunity to snatch up one of the Skysweepers if they saw them, if only to say they did.