6 Amazing Ways Robots Help With Underground Utility Inspection

By Emily Newton

Robots are the future of underground utility inspections. Subterranean utilities pose a particular challenge regarding maintenance checkups and repairs. Assigning robots to the job can save time and money and improve procedures and safety. What should industry pros know about the incredible benefits of robotic inspection?

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Here are six ways robots are improving underground utility inspections and making workers’ jobs safer and easier.

1. Easier, Faster and Less Expensive Inspections

Robotic inspection makes underground utility maintenance significantly easier, faster and less expensive. Conventional methods require feeding a wired camera down a pipe or using ultrasonic testing, which only gives data about certain features.

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These inspection methods are helpful but provide limited visibility into the actual health of a pipe, particularly when identifying the specific locations and severity of maintenance issues. Robotic inspection offers more precise control than a wired camera and can capture visuals alongside sensor data.

Pipe crawler robots are also easy to use. Most have some type of remote controller so operators can direct them where to go. This simplicity makes the inspection process much more efficient. Additionally, costs are reduced since a single robot can perform the tasks of multiple conventional inspection tools.

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2. Reduced Risk to Utility Workers

Underground utility inspection robots can help make jobs safer by reducing the need for physical, hands-on labor. New technologies and more proactive approaches to safety are already making a difference in the industry. Serious injuries and fatalities (SIF) rates fell 72% between 2017 and 2021 in this sector.

While this progress is great news, there are further opportunities to improve safety. Pipe inspection robots keep humans well away from inspection zones, minimizing their exposure to unexpected hazards like fires or explosions. This is particularly true for inspecting pipes that transport hazardous materials like gas.

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Reducing SIF rates as much as possible is crucial for the utility industry’s future. Young people are more likely to pursue utility careers if they know these jobs are safe and involve exciting technologies like robots.

3. Easy Recording and Documentation

One of the most common challenges inspectors face when analyzing underground utility maintenance needs is a lack of standardization. The inconsistent results provided by conventional inspection tools make it difficult to objectively compare the needs of different pipes and sites, making prioritization a challenge. This task becomes even harder when there is no way to get a clear visual of the lines in question.

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Robotic inspection can be used for virtually any kind of pipe, allowing utility inspectors to create a common baseline for rating maintenance needs. At a minimum, inspection robots can provide consistent, high-quality video footage of lines. This has the benefit of creating video files that can be viewed repeatedly and shared among professionals without requiring a visit to the site.

Certain advanced inspection robots also include sensors and inspection software to analyze the collected data. This is a big advantage in underground utility checks since it simplifies identifying pipes that require the most attention. Easy prioritization is essential in this field since repairing pipes can require expensive processes like excavation.

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4. Less Destructive Inspections

Conventional underground utility inspections can sometimes require excavation, which is time- and resource-intensive. Robotic checks can reduce this need, limiting it to cases where digging is only necessary for repairs. This saves money, work hours and equipment.

Minimizing destructive inspection techniques is also better for local ecosystems. Excavation can pollute and erode soil and disrupt natural water management, potentially causing flooding. These side effects may not always be immediately visible at digging sites, but local plant and animal life may feel the impact throughout the area.

Robotic inspection lets utility companies reduce their environmental impact, which benefits the planet and their customers. Pipe excavations are also noisy and disruptive to people living nearby, and machinery may cause air pollution. In contrast, robots are quiet, low-power and quick.

5. More Frequent Inspections and Repairs

Thanks to robots’ ease and efficiency, utility companies can perform inspections more frequently, leading to better maintenance. A robotic inspection is a fast and low-cost way to check on underground utility infrastructure. Those qualities make it much easier to increase inspection frequency without incurring high costs and work hours.

In fact, robotic inspections may soon be fully automated. Researchers are developing AI-powered pipe crawler robots that can communicate and collaborate with one another. The little robots can even complete basic repairs. A swarm of AI bots can provide utility companies with 24/7 autonomous pipe monitoring.

With more frequent inspections come more frequent repairs. Utility companies are more likely to catch maintenance issues early, allowing them to perform smaller, simpler fixes. This saves money and resources in the long run. It also ensures underground utilities always operate as efficiently and safely as possible.

6. Robots Are Useful for Maintenance, Too

Robotic underground utility inspections are a great way to save time, money and resources. These robots can often be used for numerous tasks in the industry, though, including some simple maintenance procedures. Cleaning is one of the easiest jobs to assign to a pipe crawler bot.

Some pipe inspection robots include options to add different parts, such as cleaning tools. This allows the machine to scrub away particulate buildup and any other sanitation issues found during inspections. That might seem like a small task, but easy cleaning of pipes can prevent bigger maintenance needs and repairs down the road.

Of course, as with any technology, utility companies must secure their underground inspection robots. Cybersecurity is a major concern in the industry today after multiple attacks caused billions of dollars in damage in recent years. Luckily, easy steps like training and access restriction can ensure pipe inspection robots don’t pose a security risk.

The Benefits of Robotic Inspection

Assigning a robot to the task of underground utility inspection saves time and money, reduces safety risks, decreases environmental harm, simplifies checks and improves maintenance. These machines can conduct easy checkups and help with simple maintenance tasks like pipe cleaning. New developments and research could even lead to fully autonomous robotic inspections in the near future.

Emily Newton is a construction and industrial journalist. She is also the Editor-in-Chief for Revolutionized Magazine. Keep up with Emily by following her by subscribing to Revolutionized’s Newsletter. Tags: