Petrochemical and liquid gas companies require a regular inspection of a vessel's welds and wall thicknesses — a dangerous task given the hazardous environment. A climbing robot, category winner in the 2017 “Create the Future” Design Contest, is potentially up to the challenge.

The EJBot, developed at the Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology, uses upturned propellers to scale smooth, rough, flat, and cylindrical surfaces.

Tech Briefs spoke with "Create the Future” inventor Mohamed Gouda Alkalla about EJBot's unique way of getting up the wall.

Tech Briefs: What does the EJBot look like?

The EJBot (Image Credit: Alkalla)

Mohamed Gouda Alkalla: The robot is a mobile platform, with two upturned propellers attached to it. EJBot (see image) consists of three main units: the thrust unit (propellers), the driving unit (four motorized wheels), and control unit (the Arduino platform and teleoperated radio system).

Tech Briefs: From a design perspective, what is special about the EJBot? How is it different from conventional robots?

Alkalla: What is special about the EJBot is the hybrid adhesion system. The system consists of two upturned propellers (which generate thrust forces perpendicular to the surface) and four actuated wheels. These propellers and wheels are actuated simultaneously to generate the required adhesion force against the surface.

The uniqueness here is the versatility. The adhesion does not depend on specific materials, or the smoothness or roughness of the climbed surfaces.

Tech Briefs: What can the EJBot do?

Alkalla: EJBot can climb different kinds of surfaces: smooth or rough; ferromagnetic or non-ferromagnetic; flat or curved. It is most exciting to watch EJBot climb the walls, move on the ceiling, and climb cylindrical tracks upwards.

The main task of EJBot is to regularly inspect the industrial vessels of petrochemical companies, since it is very dangerous for a human to get inside due to the unhealthy environment there. EJBot provides visual inspection of critical spots inside the vessels, like weld joints or places where there is surface corrosion. EJBot is valuable for getting on or inside an inaccessible spot for inspection purposes, like measuring a certain wall thickness of vessels or nuclear power plant facilities.

Tech Briefs: How did this idea come about?

Alkalla: I started the project in Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology in Egypt, then developed the second prototype at Waseda University in Japan. This was my Ph.D. research project.

The idea was proposed by my professor and supervisor Dr. Mohamed Fanni. We discussed the question of: “What if we upturned the propellers, instead of using them for flight in the quadcopter?” I'm so grateful for his valuable suggestions, advice, and supervision. My professor Shuji Hashimoto at Waseda University also encouraged me to develop the EJBot. He funded this project too.

Tech Briefs: What's next, regarding the robotic development?

Alkalla: The next step is to install advanced sensors and a wireless camera to test EJBot in the real industrial field and fulfill the industrial sector’s needs.

What do you think of the EJBot? Share your comments below.

For more information, read Alkalla’s official Create the Future  entry.

See this year’s 2017 Create the Future Design Contest winners, including the grand-prize technology: a “HI-Light” chemical reactor.