Sonobotics: Technologies for Robotic Inspection
Sonobotics is a spin-out company from Imperial College London founded in 2020 by the researchers of the Non-Destructive Evaluation (NDE) Group of Mechanical Engineering Department. Sonobotics’ mission is to revolutionise the inspection industry through innovation by creating unique sensing technologies deployable by all types of robotic platforms.
While inspection has always been a crucial aspect for the smooth operation of any industry, it is still today confronting a number of important challenges where human protection, efficiency and safety are more than ever the centre of concerns. Consequently, it is time consuming and expensive for companies to conform to stringent industrial standards while maintaining a safe workplace and protecting workers from harm when tasks at remote and harsh locations need to be executed. The emergence of semi and fully autonomous systems has accelerated the move towards the adoption of robotic platforms in industry to perform safe and consistent inspections.
Robotics meets NDT
While external visual inspections are important and form an essential part of the assessment of offshore structures, it is often necessary to probe the inside of the structure beneath the surface to get a proper assessment of its integrity. The disruptive sensing technologies from Sonobotics are engineered to allow seamless integration onto autonomous and semi-autonomous robotic platforms by incorporating the Robotic Operation System (ROS), advanced software and wireless capabilities in less than an hour. One example of such technology is SONUS EVO, the smallest, most powerful Electro-Magnetic Acoustic Transducer (EMAT) acquisition system of its kind, custom designed to be ultra-lightweight (~ 250g) which enables, for the first time, the use of EMATs with ALL types of robotic platforms including those where payload is an issue such as drones and UAVs. The EMAT enables ultrasonic inspections to be performed on conductive materials without the need for surface preparation and even through paint layers. Furthermore, unlike traditional methods, there is no need to carry heavy ultrasonic couplant or water.
Robotic platforms, equipped with advanced sensing technologies such as SONUS EVO, can create fully autonomous inspection platforms requiring no or minimal human intervention. Below is an example of the integration of the EVO with Boston Dynamics Spot robot. This semi-autonomous platform can be used to perform remote NDT inspections of assets while eliminating the presence of operators and inspectors from hazardous environments.