Posted by: robotnews | April 4, 2007

The Pipeline Explorer

This little fellow explores a different kind of environment – natural gas pipelines.

The Pipeline Explorer!

The battery powered remote-controlled Explorer can perform long ranged inspections of gas pipelines, conveying images back to the operator via a wireless link.

The Explorer’s architecture consists of a seven segment body. Specially designed joints allows the robot to manuever itself in any direction it needs within the pipe. The CPU unit and electronics are protected in purged and pressurized housings.

The locomotor module houses a mini 190 degree field-of-view camera, equipped with lenses and lighting. It also houses 3 retractable legs, which are equipped with custom molded driving wheels. The robot can reach cruising speeds of 4 inches per second.

Many pipelines over the world are aging, and increasing checks are needed to detect water intrusions and other defects. The Explorer system can access thousands of feet of pipeline from a single excavation, making it far superior to any other conventional methods used in terms of speed and costs.

The Explorer won an R&D Magazine Top 100 award in 2006 for being one of the year’s most original and innovative technological developments.


Huang Zhengyang



  1. Htun Lin Oo U059294W

    I must say that this is indeed a very original and interesting design! And useful for a very niche application. I want to know what pipe diameters it can access, but I’m sure the designers had made sure that it fits all standard gas pipelines. I just hope it doesn’t come popping out of the toilet one of these days… ha ha!

  2. Varun Agarwala U037014W

    A pretty interesting and useful concept. But I would like to know how much this thing costs. Most organizations might not use it if it is too expensive. Also, I would like to know if you need specialized skills to operate this.

  3. Htun Lin: If I’m not wrong, this robot can access diameters as small as 8 inches. Thats how small it is. They hope to eventually release a small army of similar robots that can even carry out the repairs when they find defects in the pipes. And no worries of it ambushing you in the toilet. Haha, as of now they haven’t used it for anything other than gas pipes.

    Varun: I’ve no idea how much it costs, since they aren’t selling it yet. But the project which developed it costed a whooping $859,000.

  4. Varun: Oh and one more thing, the final aim is to make the robot as independent as possible, needing minimal monitoring by humans. Otherwise a person would have to stare at the screen as it cruises at 4inches/sec along a hundred mile long pipeline. As for actual handling, there wasn’t much information given. Usually the mother company would provide a course to train the personnal handling their robots.

  5. I think independency is what makes a robot really a robot. Or else it does not differ from any handsaw or screwdriver. I wonder what other possible application such a robot can be used for. Perhaps as an archaeology exploration device or survivor seeking in building collapses etc.

  6. Azhar Risyad Sunaryo u037028m

    Yeah, this design is very unique. I might mistaken it with a giant snake if I meet with one maybe ahhahaa.

    Hmmm I have a question about this though, how does the robot inspect the pipe? I mean whether the pipe is still okay or not? Does it have any sensors? Or does it require somebody in the “office” to look through the image sent by the robot and analyze it?

  7. For me, it looks pretty much like a snake made of steel.

  8. I believe that the wonder of this invention lies in the maintanence costs. Imagine countries that have natural gas pipelines such as China, regular checks using this invention would reduce accidents waiting to occur and locate faults along recently damaged lines – especially near disaster prone areas such as recently earthquake hit areas.

    U036378U Boo Junyou

  9. this snake robot is just like many other explore robots. this is also the reason why humans are making more and more robots these days. we are now limited in the space around the earth. it’s time for humans to explore other spaces.

    Yuzhenyu U037786A

  10. I must say that the Pipeline Explorer really deserved the R&D Magazine Top 100 award in 2006. I think pipeline maintaince could be really tedious and tough especially if they are buried underground. But such an autonomous robot, let’s hope dangerous leakages of gases could be greatly reduced!

    Ng Zhihong

  11. Hmm, the world of robotics is extremely interesting as it spans many new inventions to help the world to be better.

    Wondering if the movement of this robot causes spark in metal pipes, since it is metal striking against metal.. Ha ha!

    U036039B Kim Choon Ming, Alvin

  12. This is the most interesting robot i have seen so far, it has a snake like body. The creator of the robot must have gotten his ideas from observing a snake. Making it work in pipelines is not as easy as it seems, as the robot will have to face highly pressurized liquids and gas. I am also curious how the robot manages to communicate through the pipes, as water is known to stop EM waves.

    by U036419B Jway Kim Soon

  13. This is a really cool innovation that can be used to explore and look for cracks and leaks in natural gas pipes, which would prove very risky and inaccessible for humans. Its segmented body also allows for very flexible movement.

    Perhaps it can also be modified to carry some form of ceramic or clay material to patch up pipeline defects and and carry out routine maintanence and repair.

    by U037779R, Han Mingding

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