Huge savings in cost and inspection times (as well as improved safety) could be obtained by performing in-service inspection of tank floors and walls with robotic devices. This would have a reduced environmental impact and meet EPA and state regulations.

The goal was to design a robotic system to deploy a payload of non-destructive testing (NDT) sensors for the inspection of the floor and walls of a wide variety of inservice oil storage tanks while submerged in the contained fluid. The proposed concepts leverage JPL’s technologies in space robotic manipulators and end-effectors for space applications, albeit at different scales and for different environments. These technologies include a turret design with more than four tools and instruments that will enable deployment of multiple NDT sensor payloads during a single deployment. Other technologies are lightweight, large-workspace robot arms; cable-driven robot arms; in situ tool change mechanism that enables swapping of the tools without removing the robotic arm; telepresence software; robot perception capabilities; mobile robot navigation, path planning, and locomotion; and operator interfaces for robot control.

Current inspection practices require tanks to be emptied and cleaned before an inspection can commence. The total time to empty, clean, and inspect a storage tank can be between one to nine months on the larger crude oil tanks. Despite safety procedures, the cleaning operators are exposed to hazardous chemicals and other hazardous conditions for long periods of time.

This work was done by Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu, Hari D. Nayar, and Eric A. Kulczycki of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-48823