Dambot operates near closure gates at Blue Mountain Dam, Arkansas in October 2020 (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo)

A US Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) team is developing a tele-operated robotic platform to aid dam inspection personnel with assessment of earth dam outlet works

The system – called Dambot – has already been successfully tested could change the course of closure gate assessments, while also safeguarding USACE team members.

Construction materials used in outlet works at dams are vulnerable to corrosion and fatigue issues that may compromise the structural integrity of the system and put personnel entering the tunnel in jeopardy. USACE maintains these aging structures, many in unidentified or deteriorated conditions.

“Because of the age of the infrastructure, there is an unknown threat to humans entering the outlet works to inspect closure gates that can be several hundred meters down the conduit tunnel,” said Investigator Jordan Klein, a research computer engineer in ITL. “Our solution was the Dambot, which is designed to give inspection personnel a first look at the conditions inside the outlet works before exposing people to these unknown risks.”

The Dambot, a robotic platform carrying a variety of sensors such as high-resolution cameras and Lidar can create an extremely detailed model of the entire outlet works system. Typically, an inspection involves a human physically entering the tunnel to take photographs of concerning spots and document anomalies by hand. The Dambot allows for precise and repeatable inspections that can be viewed remotely, meaning inspectors can do their jobs from a safe distance.

“The impact of the Dambot is primarily the mitigation of risk to our dam inspectors by giving them the situational awareness to determine the safety of entering outlet works,” said Investigator Dr. Anton Netchaev, a research computational scientist in the Information Technology Laboratory (ITL). “Additionally, the generated models can be compared for change detection and other structural health monitoring research applications.”

“ITL joined this effort because of our expertise in sensor and sensing system design,” added Klein. “We have and will continue to work closely with structural health monitoring efforts across the Corps of Engineers to deliver safe solutions.”

The first field test of the Dambot sensor suite was recently held at the outlet works at Blue Mountain Dam, Arkansas, and was a success. The cross-disciplinary team of engineers, scientists and technicians is now preparing for a second trip to test the Dambot tele-operation capability. The group also continues to collaborate closely with ERDC's Robotics for Engineer Operations program, which focuses on similar remote sensing capabilities for military operations, in the area of capability development.

Principal Investigator Dr. Anton Netchaev stands near Dambot near the entrance of the outlet works at Blue Mountain Dam, Arkansas, in October 2020 (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo)