Design of a semi-autonomous modular robotic vehicle for gas pipeline inspection

This paper presents a new solution for inspecting and repairing defects in live gas pipelines. The proposed approach is the development of a modular and semi-autonomous vehicle system. The robotic system has a drive mechanism, capable of navigating and adjusting its orientation in various configurations of pipelines. Other features of the system are cable-free communications, semi-autonomous motion control as well as integration of sensory devices. The robotic system is designed to traverse in 150-300 mm diameter pipes through straight and curved sections, junctions and reducers. The vehicle control and navigation technique is implemented using a two-mode controller consisting of a proportional-integral-derivative (PID) and fuzzy logic control. Unlike other available systems, the vehicle employs proprioceptive sensors to monitor its own states. The fuzzy logic controller is used to evaluate the sensor outputs such as speed, climbing angle and rate of change of climbing angle. This control technique allows the vehicle to drive and adapt in a partially observable gas pipe system. Laboratory experiment results are presented. The paper also describes a cable-free communication method for the system. A brief account of typical pipe environments and currently available inspection tools is presented as background information.