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This snake-like welding robot slithers through pipes and makes repairs with lasers

When it comes to moving in tight spaces, the snake has an ideal shape — its long, slender, and flexible body allows it to twist and turn its way around obstacles. It’s not surprising then that the snake has become a favorite design among robotics engineers, who have increasingly turned to snakebots for surgery, rescue work, and industrial applications. The latest snakebot to make its debut is the LaserPipe, is a laser-equipped model that can weld pipes from the inside.

The LaserPipe robotic snake system is designed to troubleshoot and repair plumbing systems that are challenging to repair. Instead of going to great lengths to access a hazardous or tough-to-reach area, the mechanical snake can slither its way through the existing piping until it reaches the trouble spot. When a repair spot is detected, the operator can align the snake head and then use an in-bore laser welding system to make a repair to the pipe.

The LaserPipe was developed as a collaborative project between the UK-based OC Robotics and TWI Ltd, and was presented this month during the Innovate UK competition as a proof-of-concept. “The project outcome was a successful demonstration to industry,” says OC Robotics in a press release. “Conclusively proving the feasibility of in-bore laser welding using snake-arm robot technology for delivery and alignment.”

OC Robotics intends to continue its feasibility study with additional trials of the system planned for the coming weeks before funding ends in 2015. When finished, the team will analyze its results and report it results to the scientific community and industry as a whole. If additional funding can be secured, the company would like to add cutting to its snakebot’s repertoire of features and also improve the overall system with miniaturized optics, sealed units and more accurate alignment of the laser head.