Design of a biologically inspired climbing robot and an adhesion mechanism for reliable and versatile climbing in complex steel structures

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Steel infrastructure is the backbone of modern day society, however it requires regular inspection and maintenance to ensure integrity and prolong the life of services. The inspection of steel infrastructure such as steel bridges, often requires inspection at heights, in confined spaces, in hazardous environments or in areas which simply cannot be accessed by humans. With more stringent Work Health and Safety requirements, the ability to carry out comprehensive inspection becomes more challenging, to the extent that particular locations can no longer be inspected. There is significant motivation for climbing robots to carry out the inspection of such locations; however very few solutions have been successfully deployed. The difficulty in deploying a climbing robot is largely attributed to robot configurations which lack versatility and adhesion systems which lack reliability. Inspired biologically from the inchworm caterpillar, a climbing robot is developed to addresses these two issues. This research presents the kinematic design of a climbing robot and the design of a novel magnetic adhesion mechanism which overcomes the challenges faced by the current state-of-the-art climbing robots. The inchworm inspired climbing robot has a unique kinematic design consisting of 7 Degrees of Freedom to achieve its versatile climbing ability. This unique configuration allows the robot to navigate complex structures and pass through narrow obstacles, such as manholes. This research presents an optimisation model for developing robust and reliable adhesion systems which consist of multiple adhesion modules. The optimisation model maximises particular adhesion performance criteria, whilst minimising weight. The model allows for tailored designs depending on the means of adhesion being used. In verifying the optimisation model, a novel adhesion mechanism is developed with the means of attaching and detaching a permanent magnet to a steel surface. The adhesion module consists of a quarter gear segment to rotate the magnet between attached and detached states. Using the novel adhesion mechanism, an adhesion system is developed based on the optimisation model and verified through testing. The inchworm inspired robot configuration and the novel magnetic adhesion system enable the practical deployment of the robot. The Climbing RObot Caterpillar (CROC) has undergone extensive testing in simulated environments, mock-up environments and has been deployed for the real world inspection of complex steel structures. Over 50 site trials have been conducted over a three year period inside the hollow archways of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. CROC extends the state of the art, being the first of its kind deployed with the capability of autonomous inspection in complex steel structures.
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