Design and Construction of an Unmanned Ground Robotic Agent for Pipeline Investigation
1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
In the past decade there has been considerable effort to develop autonomous robotic vehicles for random patrols, barrier assessment, intruder detection, reconnaissance and surveillance, building entry, target detection, building or terrain mapping, and explosives neutralization. Mobile robotic platforms with the above capabilities will improve the ability to counter threats, limit risks to personnel, and reduce manpower requirements in hazardous environments.
With the ever-increasing speed and power of digital systems coupled with the continuously expanding field of robotics, it is becoming more practical to build custom robotic systems with a degree of flexibility and freedom that was once impossible, giving robots the ability to communicate wirelessly and to act autonomously. Autonomous means having the power for self governance. Autonomous vehicles detect surroundings using various components. Advanced control systems interpret sensory information to identify appropriate navigation paths, as well as obstacles. The development of autonomous vehicles is intrinsically related to the concept of feedback control and estimation theory.
The vehicle uses a global positioning system (GPS) which is a space based satellite, established in 1960 for optimum positioning system. The vehicle can work anywhere on or near earth. Where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. By tracking more than four satellites a precise position can be known.
An important area of application of mobile robot is the process of aiding the investigation of pipeline problems. The process of managing pipeline is through concise and thorough investigation. Thorough investigation is a very hectic process that involves a lot of man labour and intensive work hours. Technology has made the process of pipeline management see the light of a type of robot, which is an Autonomous Ground Vehicle (AGV). AGV is an unmanned ground robotic agent which can be used for the process of pipeline investigation. Pipeline investigation through this robotic agent eases the burden of pipeline managers and makes work effective. This robotic agent is able to fulfill this goal because it is designed and developed to move along pipelines and obtain precise information, about the pipeline smartly and wirelessly. In essence, the robotic agent can smartly obtain the present condition of a pipeline over a large area, and can relate the information acquired to the pipeline managers in their base station wirelessly.
1.2 STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
The most economical way to transport petroleum product is through the use of pipelines. Currently, approximately 85% of oil and gas worldwide is carried through complex pipelines, making it the most important method of transportation. Secure and stable pipeline transportation is therefore crucial to the end-to-end oil and gas production process. Several items must be considered. First, oil and gas pipelines span wide areas and transverse extreme terrains. Under traditional pipeline management and control models, workers have to patrol alongside the pipelines to inspect for cracks or other events. These inspections are labour-intensive and time consuming, and often incomplete as teams are usually only able to cover key sites and main lines because of the distances involved. Second, a lot of office systems including scheduling, conferencing, and telephone systems are used in pipeline transportation management. These systems often run independent of each other with high Operation and Maintenance costs and affect the efficiency of communication and decision making. Third, pipeline transportation usually involves a number of risks such internal or external corrosion, cracking, third party intrusion and manufacturing flaws, thereby leading to damage, leakage and failure with serious economic and ecological consequences. Third party mechanical damage has proven to be the most serious problem encountered by pipeline industries on their facilities located onshore. Oil spill incidence through pipeline vandalism appears to be peculiar to Nigeria and has become rampant in recent times and if no urgent measures are taken by the relevant Nigerian agencies, the frequent pipeline cuts that continue to spill for weeks and months has the capacity of undermining Government’s efforts at meeting its obligations in spill management.
The table below shows the most recent statistics of quantity of crude oil lost as result of pipeline vandalism from Oil Producers Trade Section [OPTS]. From the table, it can be seen that a total of over 5 million barrels of crude oil was lost due to illegal bunkering facilitated by pipeline vandalism. Furthermore, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation [NNPC)] posited that Nigeria lost about N163billion in three years to pipeline vandalism (LOGBABY NEWS, 2013). Pipeline vandalism has crippled fuel supply and incurred over N174billion in product losses and pipeline repairs (NNPC PUBLIC RELATION, 2015). Many lives have been lost as a result of explosions and fire coming from vandalized pipelines carrying crude oil and refined products when they become vandalized. The environment has also been degraded and many farmlands completely destroyed.
Table 1.1 crude oil lost due to vandalism (Bassey, 31)
Security Related Deferment (bbls)
Loss Due to Oil Theft / Illegal Bunkering (bbls)
1.3 Aim and Objectives
The aim of this project is to design and develop an unmanned ground robotic agent for pipeline investigation.
The specific objectives of this project are:
1. To design a robotic agent with the use of microcontrollers.
2. To use obstacle and motion sensors to control the movement of a robot along pipelines.
3. To develop sensor nodes for real time pipeline investigation.
4. To use short range RF communication devices for real time data acquisition.
5. To use GSM communication for field personnel assistance.
1.4 SIGNIFICANCE OF A ROBOTIC AGENT FOR PIPELINE INVESTIGATION
1. It makes traditional pipeline management and control more effective. Workers can cover more grounds during inspection, thereby saving time and reducing cost of labour.
2. Corrosion, cracking, third party intrusion and manufacturing flaws can be spotted early enough for maintenance to be carried out.
3. It reduces environmental hazards.
4. It increases productivity. More products will be delivered to its required destination, thereby increasing productivity.
5. It reduces budget spent on maintenance and repair of pipelines.
1.5 SCOPE OF THE PROJECT
Autonomous intelligent vehicles are the one of the most widely researched areas in electronics and robotics. These vehicles capable of operating by themselves or at least with minimal human help, find applications in a lot of areas where sending humans is too dangerous or where human cognition skills are utilized only minimally. This project is an attempt to explore this active field by designing and implementing a robot that guides itself using obstacle detection and smart wireless communication devices.
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