PI: Subhrajit Bhattacharya
University: Lehigh University

As the facility infrastructure in the United States ages, there is a continual need to upgrade safety, electrical, and telecommunication systems. FLX Solutions, Inc., a PA Keystone Innovation Zone and Ben Franklin corporation, has developed a low-cost, 3D-printed snake-like robot with inspection, repair, and other infrastructure applications. The robot enables workers to safely perform tasks while helping to improve uptime for companies at a price point that makes it affordable to put in every work truck.

The goal of this project is to continue the development of path planning algorithms that will enable users to easily operate the robot in a number of environments, including confined spaces. In a previous PITA project, Lehigh University professor Subhrajit Bhattacharya and his team developed a mathematical and algorithmic framework for autonomous 2D-locomotion in maze-like environments like walls. What makes this work unique is that it enables the robot to generate the bracing forces necessary for load-intensive operations such as drilling through studs and joists.

The previously developed and simulated algorithms will be implemented on the physical prototype of the robot being constructed by FLX Solutions, Inc. A feedback controller will be added that fuses information from onboard sensors and cameras to account for mechanical deflections of the robot while under load. The algorithms will then be expanded from 2D- to 3D-movements. Lastly, methodologies for simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM) using onboard sensors will be developed, allowing the robot to operate in any unknown environment without requiring prior mapping information.

This project is a collaboration between research and industry through a partnership between the Mechanical Engineering Department at Lehigh University and FLX Solutions, Inc. The results of the project will enable the snake-like robot to be commercialized, revolutionizing the safety and efficiency of upkeep and improvements in infrastructure-related industries.