Inaccessible Penstock Features
Can UAS be designed to autonomously navigate and collect inspection data within confined space, inaccessible features such as tunnels, conduits, penstocks and draft tubes.
Need and Benefit
Inspections are routinely conducted within a hydroelectric facilities internal features. The penstock is a tunnel that directs water to the generator turbine and the draft tube conducts the water to the outlet on the downstream side of the turbine. Numerous tunnels and conduits convey water to reservoirs and facilities. These tunnel features range between 4 feet to 40 feet in diameter and bend at angles that inspectors cannot access without special rope access gear and training. In addition, entry into the tunnel often requires special clearances, training, and other safety precautions.
The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began research to address this issue in 2012 by partnering the the University of Pennsylvania's Robotics laboratory. The UPenn lab is well known for its reserach on autonomous navigation of unmanned aerial systems (UAS). They have been working to develop a system that can collect useful inspection video and 3D modeling measurements as well as navigate reliably without the need for a primary manned controller. Reclamation partnered with USACE in 2015 to provide demonstration sites for testing and evaluation of the UAS platform. Joint missions have been conducted at Glen Canyon Dam and Center Hill Dam. In FY 17, UPenn will complete its work with a demonstration at Center Hill Dam and Grand Coulee Dam.
The benefits to Reclamation include increased safety, better qualitative and quantitative data collection and reduced costs.
Contact the Principal Investigator for information about partners.
Going Where No Human Can: Inspecting Inaccessible Features at Reclamation's Glen Canyon Dam (final, PDF,
By Matthew Klein (PI), Bobbi Jo Merten (PI)
Publication completed on September 30, 2016