Student designed robots provide eyes and ears for electricity providers meaning a lot less time with the lights out


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When there is a power outage in remote areas it can take hours for technicians to travel, find and fix the problem. Technicians often have to return to base to pick up gear or send a second technician.

Transpower New Zealand has 174 substations nationwide and 25 of those are in remote locations. On average, a Transpower technician travels 90 minutes to reach a remote site.

Transpower and Massey University have been working together on a built-for-purpose robot that can quickly diagnose remote substation problems. The project began as a final year student ‘capstone’ project at Massey’s School of Engineering in Albany. Robotics student engineers worked under Professor Johan Potgieter and with Transpower’s Mark Ryallto come up with two robots they have named Wall-E and Eve.

The robots feature a hydraulic neck and wheels that allow them to travel both inside and outside substations to observe the state of vital power equipment. They can be remotely controlled by a Transpower operator or engineer anywhere in New Zealand using a modified Xbox 360 controller or a laptop, says Transpower's Mark Ryall. These robots have the potential to be our eyes on the ground.”

Transpower and Massey have recently begun a four-week trial at their Albany substation in the Grow North Innovation District. The trial will see the robots put through their paces to test their capabilities, then all going well the robots will then live in charging sheds at some of Transpower's most remote substations.

Manapouri is one of the first sites Transpower have in mind given its significance to the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter and it can take a technician six hours to organise a boat trip across the to the site.

Looking towards the future, Transpower and Massey can see potential for these robots to learn and carry out other tasks such as making regular inspections around each site to identify the progression of terrain erosion. Robots like Wall-E and Eve don’t replace employees, instead they enable Transpower’s people to solve problems quickly and restore power a lot faster to their customers across the country. Massey School of Engineering
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