Wall-Climbing Robot Grabs Prize

Gravity is a nice thing to have most of the time, but sometimes it would be nice to be able to ignore it for certain applications. Rock climbing, for example, would be much easier, as would performing bridge inspections in the way that a group of mechanical engineering cadets (students) at The Citadel, a military college in South Carolina, were tasked with doing. Frustrated with the amount of traffic backups that normal bridge inspections caused, they invented a robot that defies gravity, and won a $10k prize for their efforts.

The result is essentially an RC car with a drone built in, or looking at it another way it’s a drone with wheels. The car is able to drive on vertical surfaces to inspect the bridges by using its propellers to force itself onto the surface. The lack of complicated moving parts or machinery, like a cable suspension system or other contraption, makes this device exceptionally versatile for the task at hand, reduces the amount of time needed for inspections, and can do them more safely and without closing lanes of traffic. The group hopes to build a second prototype soon and present it to the Department of Transportation for approval for more widespread use.

The need for tools like these is in high demand now as well, especially in the United States where crumbling infrastructure is often not thought about, taken seriously, or prioritized. Even for bridges that aren’t major pieces of infrastructure, tools like these will prove to be very useful.

Thanks to [Ben] for the tip!

24 thoughts on “Wall-Climbing Robot Grabs Prize

    1. “Crappy” is waaaay too harsh. I’m betting they were operating under significantly different budget constraints from a group at a major EU robotics institution, funded by, and with a video produced by, Disney.

      I’m not deleting this comment because the linked video is also awesome.

      Taking out your oddly misplaced anger on this team because our writer used “invented” maybe instead of “built”, however, isn’t OK. OK? Be nice.

      1. Yeah, maybe I was too harsh, but this project remembers me on all the Hackathons, where the winners win for ideas that aren’t practical, new or theirs.

        An example: In the last Hackathon I participated, the winning team wined 6000€ plus other things. The Hackathon was about how to help public services in emergency situations. What this team proposed was a system of WiFi triangulation, this way they could always know where the fire fighters where in the building. You just need to be a bit a technical person to know that triangulation is hardly possible with an esp8266, and that triangulation is more like a random guess inside a building. Not saying my idea was better, but there where better ideas…

      2. One has to think that inefficiently pushing a wheeled car to the side of a bridge with propellers makes the whole contraption fall off in a matter of minutes, where a simple drone could fly for half an hour and video the whole thing.

    1. How would know they aren’t just holding the camera sideways to make it look like it is climbing up a wall when it is really moving on a horizontal surface?

      (I think think I saw something like that done on an episode of the Batman TV series…)

  1. Inspecting infrastructure like bridges must be a real challenge to be fair.

    To a degree, some inspections can likely be carried out through the use of a drone, or just ground based observations. Though the later is a bit hard if the bridge goes a long distance over water.

    Though, being up close and personal likely has some rather major advantages in a lot of areas to be fair.

    But in the end, a bridge should be built with inspection and maintenance in mind. Like most other structures to be fair.
    Although, even when taking such in mind during design and construction can still lead to certain areas not being easily inspectable regardless…

    1. “Though the later is a bit hard if the bridge goes a long distance over water.”

      Just imagine the winds that are encountered around such a bridge, but then, maybe those would be too strong/variable for any drone.

  2. There’s a million previous inventions out there waiting for a problem to solve.

    This lot saw a problem and solved it
    And they deserve huge credit for doing so

    Foresight is a wonderful thing, the world’s full of ‘genius’ types that can pick holes in others creations. However when faced with attempting original thought they ……

      1. It says:

        “The lack of […] a cable suspension system or other contraption, makes this device exceptionally versatile […] without closing lanes of traffic.”

    1. It falls into a river … (May not be used for the upper part of the bridge and maybe just the lower part, though thinking about it, a pully system would be simpler and cheaper for inspecting below the bridge likely.

      1. True. I was thinking of bridges /over/ roads (or railways). Bridges over rivers still require a lot of equipment at deck level for conventional inspection techniques and this system would probably help in those cases.

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