Brothers Keith and Bruce Schlee, founders of Helical Robotics (helicalrobotics.com) are developing a wheeled light-lift platform that uses a patent-pending magnetic adhesion system. The magnets hold the robot against a surface while its Mecanum wheels allow maneuvering in any direction. Because of the strong magnetic forces generated, the robot’s inventors say it can carry payloads on most any ferrous surface.
The inventors have completed design, construction, and testing of the prototype and are using lessons learned to build a near-production model. “Our original prototype had great lifting potential for its small size (65 lbs and lifts 70 lbs +),” Keith says. “We expect the production model to lift 150 lbs or more under normal conditions.” He says that information collected from the prototype will be used to construct the Light Lift production version, which is expected to be 75 to 90 lbs, and have even greater lift capacity depending on options.
The robot can be used in a variety of applications: welding, pipeline inspection, bottom-of-ship inspection (if the robot’s waterproofed), and the wind industry. “Because wind towers are steel, the robot offers a cost-effective solution to lift payloads without requiring repelling equipment or the erection of an independent crane,” Keith says.
Wind farm construction and maintenance presents tasks the robot’s inventors say it could assist with. For instance, the device could carry hand tools, welding equipment, or anything too bulky or heavy for a worker to lift. Workers could also use the device as a deck for footing instead of relying on a harness and repelling gear alone. Robots can also be placed side-by-side or interconnected for more area or to lift heavier loads. An option is to attach a camera and wireless communications equipment to the device to perform tasks such as wind-farm surveillance or blade inspection.
“It really all depends on what the end user needs,” says Bruce. “Wind towers provide versatile work surface because they’re so large. We can easily make the robots big enough to lift much more weight.”
Right now each wheel of the robot is independently powered by electric motors, while the system is powered by a series of NiMH batteries. Keith notes if extra payload capacity is needed, upgrade options such as LiPo batteries could be used because they have a higher capacity for their weight.
Keith says later versions (medium lift and heavy lift) will use a multi-segmented platform arrangement similar to that used for the clamping versions and scaling (stronger magnets, more wheels, higher torque motors, etc.) to lift ever heavier items. WPE
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