Robotic technology demonstrated at NYPA’s Niagara power plant

July 17, 2013

LEWISTON — The New York Power Authority’s Niagara Hydroelectric Power Plant served as the venue on Wednesday for the demonstration of robotic equipment whose widespread utility application would contribute to the power industry’s efforts to advance the operational performance and longevity of generating facilities. 

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), in collaboration with NYPA, American Electric Power, Exelon, the Southwest Research Institute, International Climbing Machines (ICM), the University of Texas at Austin and Rutgers University, are demonstrating the capabilities of advanced inspection techniques of concrete structures, including the deployment of a robotic crawler.

The demonstration, which took place along the vertical exterior of the main generating facility at the Niagara plant, is part of broader research EPRI is conducting on concrete aging, a critical issue at generating plants across the country. EPRI, a nonprofit organization funded by the electric utility industry, brings together combined resources from U.S. utilities to conduct research and development in support of efficient generation, delivery and use of electricity for the benefit of the public.

NYPA engineers and researchers from each of the participating organizations are evaluating the performance of the robotic crawler, which incorporates sound wave technologies in the evaluation of concrete conditions. The tests enabled EPRI to assess various technical aspects of the crawler in a real-world application and evaluate the commercial viability of the technology.

“The New York Power Authority is pleased that EPRI and its collaborators are demonstrating the robotic crawler at our Niagara plant,” said George F. Wong, senior civil engineer, NYPA. “When this technology has been perfected, it will eliminate the need for potentially dangerous and difficult rappelling and scaffolding in the performance of routine structural evaluations.”

Instead of designing and building a new robot, the EPRI team reviewed commercially available devices. The device best-suited to the job was determined to be the robotic crawler, roughly the size of an electric lawnmower, designed by ICM, which is an  Ithaca, N.Y., company. 

The crawler, which is controlled remotely, adheres to vertical surfaces using vacuum suction and can carry up to 44 pounds. It applies on-board systems, including simultaneous localization and mapping technology and advanced instrumentation developed for concrete applications, to conduct automated, high-precision inspections and to capture computer-encoded data and images for maintenance decision-making.

“We are in the initial phase of testing, but this device shows great potential for advancing the industry’s concrete inspection process,” said Maria Guimaraes, an EPRI project manager who directs the research project. “By the end of the year we’d like the data that can be collected by this robot to provide a real-time, accurate assessment of the conditions and integrity of concrete.”

The concrete crawler is designed to support and extend long-term operation of generating assets, allowing safe, in-depth inspection of such large structures as cooling towers, hydro dams, and reactor containments. Its payload of advanced instrumentation will provide unprecedented abilities to examine the interior of concrete structures to locate voids, cracks, rebar corrosion, and other internal defects. Updates on the crawler can be found at:

About NYPA:

The New York Power Authority uses no tax money or state credit. It finances its operations through the sale of bonds and revenues earned in large part through sales of electricity.

■ NYPA has been designated as the lead entity via Executive Order 88 by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to form a central management and implementation plan to carry out his Build Smart NY plan to reduce energy use by state facilities by 20 percent by 2020.

■ NYPA is the nation’s largest state public power organization, through the operation of its 16 generating facilities in various parts of New York State, participation in a unique public/private partnership to contract for power from a clean generating plant in Queens, and its operation of more than 1,400 circuit-miles of transmission lines.

■ More than 70 percent of the electricity NYPA produces is clean renewable hydropower. Its lower-cost power production and electricity purchases support hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the state.

■ For more information visit www.nypa.govand follow us on FacebookInstagramLinkedInWordPress and  @NYPAenergy on Twitter.