Those big high-tension power lines that form the national power grid need to be carefully inspected on a regular basis for impinging trees and other potential problems. In remote areas this work is often done by costly helicopter crews, but that could change when this cable crawling robot enters service.
Creeping along the top guide wire at 3 mph, the robot actually runs using power harvested by induction from the main cables. The solar cells are only there for backup, and presumably so it can also look for problems during a blackout. The robot's high-resolution cameras will automatically make comparisons with images taken earlier from the same location and then issue alerts if it finds obstructions like abnormal tree growth, some kid's dangling sneakers, or an Earth Liberation Front banner on the line. The robot communicates using both satellite and cellphone links.
Developed by the Electric Power Research Institute, each 6-foot-long, 140-pound robot will cost around $500,000, and according to EPRI it can cover 160 miles in a year. That seems kind of low to me, when you consider that 3 mph works out to over 26,000 miles in a year. Still, they claim it will save at least 30 percent when compared to the current helicopter inspections.
The first commercial test is expected in 2014, just enough time for the UFO hunters and conspiracy theorists to come up with some crazy theory about what these robots are really doing.