Detecting dangerous gas leaks in industrial facilities can be a time-consuming task and it is also susceptible to human error and interpretation.
In a bid to provide a safer, more efficient and more reliable detection solution, RoboGasInspector was created by a consortium of nine companies and research institutions under the German technology program AUTONOMIK.

The innovative robot system was developed using a FLIR GF320 optical gas imaging camera. It allows leaks to be detected without accessing hazardous areas.

The robot is also equipped with video and optical gas telemetry, which enables it to check system parts that were previously difficult to inspect due to restricted accessibility. 

The project was headed by Dr. Andreas Kroll and Dr. Ludger Schmidt at the Mechanical Engineering Department of the University of Kassel.

It is absolutely essential to exercise the utmost care wherever toxic or explosive gases are used, which is why rigorous inspection specifications apply to the chemical industry, biogas facilities and gas suppliers.

Usually, preventive inspection programs require personnel to perform time-consuming routine inspection procedures on a daily basis. 

But for professors Kroll and Schmitt, a top requirement for the new system was to allow for automated, hazard-free inspection and monitoring with the robot system able to respond independently to problems.

The RoboGasInspector has completed a range of inspections and discovered a methane leak at one pipeline.

The FLIR GF320 visualises invisible gases at leak sites as dark plumes of smoke. The RoboGasInspector consists of three modules: a chain-driven mobile platform, a navigation module and an inspection module, which incorporates the FLIR GF320 optical gas imaging camera.

The chain-driven platform is equipped with an electric drive and conventional batteries.

The navigation module consists of 2D laser scanners (front and back, which are particularly important for navigation inside buildings) as well as a GPS for outdoor orientation. The inspection module combines various metrological instruments on a pan-tilt unit, including a Remote Methane Leak Detector (RMLD), which is based on an active Turnable Diode Laser Absorption Spectroscopy (TDLAS) instrument.

It works by means of an infrared laser. When the laser beam hits a surface, it is reflected and its residual intensity is measured. In addition, a FLIR GF320 thermal imaging camera is mounted on the inspection module to visualise the gases.

To ensure that the RoboGasInspector itself does not pose a risk, it is also equipped with a built-in gas sensor that shuts down the entire system from 10 per cent of the Lower Explosive Limit (LEL) onwards in order to prevent possible danger to a flammable atmosphere.

Processing of the measured data and pattern recognition are performed independently by the robot. The RoboGasInspector also carries out the inspection of the specified routes and performs measurements on its own.

It is continuously in contact with the control room and can be remotely controlled from there if necessary. A video camera is also incorporated in the pan-and-tilt measuring module for this purpose.

However, in normal operating mode, the RoboGasInspector works independently and merely transmits all measured data to the control room via wireless Local Area Network.

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