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For robots to function in unknown, unstructured environments, a more sophisticated sensing and control solution is required. For the extreme challenge of developing a robot that can carry out grit blasting in the complex, highly variable environment found on bridge structures a completely new approach needed to be developed. Once grit blasting commences, the air is quickly filled with dust, significantly reducing visibility, meaning that remote control of a robot by the grit blaster is not an option, so an autonomous solution is required.
Accurate CAD data does not exist for bridge structures, particularly older bridges, and so the robot has to operate without prior knowledge of the structure. This means that the system needs to generate its own 3D map of the environment and use this data to plan an optimum blasting trajectory based on the information is has available.
The grit blasting process itself generates many challenges for a robotic system, not least of which is developing a control solution that takes into account the parameters required for high quality grit blasting, such as blasting speed, nozzle distance from the surface, the nozzle angle to the surface and the blast stream overlap. All of these parameters must be taken into account when calculating the optimum blasting trajectory.
The SABRE system is a six degree-of-freedom (DoF) robotic arm equipped with a 3D sensor, blast hose coupling and a lightweight chassis and guide rails. It has been designed with ease of installation in mind; the whole system can be disassembled in a matter of minutes into sections that weigh less than 25kg and small enough to be installed in areas with restricted access.
There are three key stages to the autonomous system
A specially protected sensor takes a series of images of the environment around it. The scan data is then meshed together into a 3D map of the structure. The sensor is able to work in low light conditions, and can even work in the dark!
The on-board computer works out the optimum blasting trajectory and path using our propriatory algorithms. The operator can also tweak the blasting parameters such as speed, overlap and angle to suit the specific requirements of the job
The scanning and planning process only takes a couple of minutes, then the robot is ready to start blasting. The operator checks that the area is clear, sets the safety switch, then the robot gets on with the job of blasting, with accuracy and consistency.
With the brief to “blast anything anywhere”, SABRE have developed the next generation of autonomous grit-blasting robot. The Mobile Blasting Robot is being designed with flexibility and return on investment in mind. Some of the key features include:
Small enough to fit into the back of a pickup-truck or small van
Narrow enough to fit through a standard doorway
Total weight less than 65kg – can easily be separated into sections weighing under 25kg
Simple to operate via the Operator Control Unit – no robotics expertise required!
Adaptable blasting parameters to suit job and site requirements
Can be fitted to a scissor lift or cherry picker to provide height access
Online blast quality monitoring
Multi-robot collaboration – even more productivity gains by having multiple robots working together with only one operator
Above video: Autonomous blasting of a complicated confined space over a 1 hour period. Speed x8.
First, multiple 3D images are taken of the environment before the system blasts to a Class 3 finish across different levels of rusted steel.
Blasting at 110psi with #7 nozzle NHP2