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UCSD Engineers 3D-Print Robot For Power Line Inspection

The SkySweeper robot can examine power lines autonomously by pulling itself a...

Photo by UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

Above: The SkySweeper robot can examine power lines autonomously by pulling itself along high wires.

Think about the miles of power lines criss-crossing our modern world. Inspecting them all for signs of wear and tear can be a complicated and expensive process. That's why a group of crafty UC San Diego engineers built SkySweeper, an elegant little 3D printed robot that could make power line inspection a lot simpler.

SkySweeper looks sort of like a pair of scissors slicing its way down a tightrope. It consists of two adjustable clamps fixed to arms that join at a single motor.

UCSD mechanical engineering grad student Nick Morozovsky wanted to streamline power line inspection, so he stripped down his design for the robot. He built the parts with a 3D printer, the same technology currently being used to recreate famous art and assemble organ tissue from stem cells.

Morozovsky said that because he relied on 3D printing and widely available electronics, each SkySweeper unit could cost less than $1,000 when scaled for commercial use. Comparing his invention to the bulky, costly equipment currently used to inspect power lines, Morozovsky said, "This is much simpler.”

Here's a video that shows the SkySweeper doing its thing:

The SkySweeper

Soon, you could be look up at a tangle of power lines and see this little guy scooting along the wires, looking for sections in need of repair.

Morozovsky and his colleagues at UCSD's Flow Control & Coordinated Robotics Labs will present their invention later this year at a robotics conference in Tokyo.

They'll also be one of the hopeful teams entering the Road to Maker Faire Challenge. The winners net $2,500 and the chance to compete in the World Maker Faire in New York.

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