Earthquake-damaged house inspectors using UC rover robot to look under house piles


A government-owned company responsible for settling claims from the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes is using a University of Canterbury (UC) designed rover robot to inspect for damage under building piles.

Southern Response/Arrow International has been using the UC rover robot since September and has so far inspected and videoed about 100 damaged houses.

UC rover robot designer Dr Chris Hann says there has been some interest for using the rover in other areas, such as inspecting for termites in Australia and search and rescue.

UC postgraduate student Josh Gibson is looking to improve the rover robot as part of his research project and three of Dr Hann’s summer scholarship students are also working on projects related to it.

Mr Gibson’s role is in developing a localisation and mapping system, and making the system as simple as possible to operate.

“We have started using a high definition wide angle camera, this gives us high quality images and the high field of view makes driving easier. We have also upgraded the transmitters to allow the rover to cover a greater distance,” Mr Gibson says.

The rover has a number of benefits. It allows the inspection to be done by only one person. It is much safer especially when looking under potentially damaged houses where there is the possibility of collapse.

The rover can also drive around under a house much faster than a person can crawl. Houses can be pretty dirty underneath as well as a health risk. Using the rover means the operator never needs to go under the house. It is smaller than a person so can get to areas under a house where people can’t get to.

“The information the rover provides gives the engineers a better idea of what is going on under the house before the repair process has begun. This means that the extent of the repair is better known, such as how many piles need to be repaired instead of finding out after the work has started,” Mr Gibson says.

The rover runs off a simple programme from a laptop. It is controlled using a laptop so that the video feed can be displayed on screen and it is driven with a joystick or a game pad.

“We are not aware of any other under-floor rovers in New Zealand. Quad-copters have been used for building inspection in Christchurch but I am unaware of any under-floor rovers being used,” Mr Gibson says.

The assessment of earthquake damage to structures can be an arduous, and at times, dangerous, requiring access to confined spaces. The UC rover robot uses an array of sensors to identify and map the size and extent of cracks and measure damage under a building. The rover carries a light, a video and a still camera.

High definition video and still imagery records the condition of piles and other structures beneath houses.