Climbing up the wall

Robotic research at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand has climbed new heights with the development of a wall-climbing robot.

The robot has been developed by a team of researchers lead by Associate Professor XiaoQi Chen in the University’s Mechanical Engineering department.

The team is working on developing a range of mobile machines, including an underwater robot, an autonomous guided vehicle and a flying robot. The wall-climbing robot is the first of its projects to be developed to prototype stage.

Prof Chen said the robot, which took eight months to develop from concept to prototype stage, was unique in that it could climb on all surfaces.

‘There are other wall-climbing robots being developed but they can only work on certain surfaces or in certain conditions. Our robot is more ubiquitous in terms of mobility. It can work on all kinds of surfaces — concrete, glass, wood, and on surfaces with cracks or gaps. It can also walk on ceilings,’ he said.

Prof Chen could not reveal how the robot worked as the team was currently investigating patents. However, he said other wall-climbing robots being developed used either suction techniques, electromagnetic principles or nano-fibre based dry adhesion.

“No-one else is using the kind of design we are or applying theoretical principles as we are to achieve this ubiquitous mobility. It is unmatched by any other wall-climbing robots in the world,’ claimed Prof Chen.

He said such a robot could have a range of industrial or commercial uses. ‘It could be used for building or wall inspections, repair work, cleaning or welding of containers or ships, security or surveillance — anything that requires vertical surface work.’

However, some work was still needed to make the robot commercially viable. ‘We now have to make it more practical in terms of operation. It’s tethered now by tubing and cables so we need to get it untethered and operating without those lines. That’s a very big step but it’s certainly do-able.’

Prof Chen said an onboard computer would be installed to make the robot autonomous, and sensors and perception technology would be developed and integrated to allow it to recognise and avoid obstacles. He said the team also had to look at how to adapt the technology to smaller or larger scale robots.

Prof Chen hoped to have a prototype underwater robot and an autonomous land robot working later this year.