This Monkey Robot Swings Around On Dangerous Power Lines, Checking Them For Damage

Using robots to inspect power lines is safer and cheaper than using humans. These little machines can go out in all weather, broadcast live pictures, measure voltages, and de-ice the line, if necessary. And they won’t die while they’re doing it.

There are already two models on the market: the HiBot Expliner, from Japan, and the LineScout, from the Hydro-Québec power company, in Canada. See the Expliner in action below:

Nick Morozovsky, a graduate student in engineering at U.C. San Diego, has an alternative. Made from 3D-printed plastic parts and off-the-shelf electronics, the SkySweeper has its own way of moving: a motorized “elbow joint” that opens and closes, walking the robot down the line.

Morozovsky says the design is less expensive, and could be manufactured for less than $1,000. Fitted with induction coils, it could also harvest energy as it goes along, potentially allowing it to operate indefinitely. See the SkySweeper here:

“Each clamp has three positions: open, partially closed, such that the clamp can roll along the cable, and fully closed, such that the clamp can only pivot on the cable,” he says, in an email. “[They are] also equipped with an infrared sensor that detects if a cable is within the grasp of the clamp. As SkySweeper swings, it can detect when it can close the open clamp around the cable.”

Morozovsky has been demonstrating the unit in the maker community, and is looking for ways to commercialize the idea. “We are getting a lot of interest and are keeping our eyes open for the right partner,” he says.