Durban - Two University of KwaZulu-Natal engineers have built a robot capable of inspecting power lines more efficiently and cheaply.
Nicknamed “Bertha”, the 20kg robot searches for frays and faults, takes photographs and manoeuvres itself around objects such as wind vibration dampers.
South Africa has more than 30 000km of high voltage power transmission lines which are inspected by patrol vehicles and helicopters.
Timothy Rowell and Trevor Lorimer said the robot – their second prototype – began as a Master’s project seven years ago, and that Eskom (who funded the research) was now keen on acquiring the technology.
The robot is to be shown at a second international conference later this month.
“We wanted to know that we were building something that has a purpose,” Rowell said.
“It will save money,” Lorimer added. The inspections will be more reliable, efficient, and safer.”
Rowell said the robot wouldn’t completely replace people or helicopters, but would complement their work.
Professor Nelson Ijumba, UKZN’s deputy vice chancellor of research, said the robot was one of many research projects undertaken by the university to optimise the provision of electricity to consumers.
UKZN recently opened its Smart Grid Research Centre, which houses an electricity grid system that simulated different real life scenarios such as faults and was also able to integrate energy from renewable sources.
The Smart Grid, which Ijumba said was the first of its kind in southern Africa, was used for research and training operators.
Ijumba said that by working towards an optimally designed system using the Smart Grid, certain eventualities such as blackouts could be mitigated.
“For the normal customer, it means reliable power. And an efficient system means the utility company can operate in a manner so that (consumer) bills do not escalate,” Ijumba said.
The Smart Grid Research Centre with the High Voltage Direct Current Centre and the power line Vibration Research and Testing Centre forms part of UKZN’s Science and Technology Innovation Park.
Asked if UKZN was on a mission to tackle the country’s energy problems, Ijumba said that it was important to undertake research that found solutions for ordinary people. - The Mercury