Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Marty Goolsby ()
Communications and External Relations


Oak Ridge company produces commercial version of ORNL robot

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 8, 1995 — REMOTEC, an Oak Ridge company specializing in robotics, recently sold its first commercial version of a pneumatic pipe inspection and servicing robot, the PNEU-WORM, to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The device was originally conceived and developed by researchers at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), and was licensed to REMOTEC for commercial development by Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, which manages ORNL, through the technology transfer program. This is regarded as a prime example of how the resources of DOE facilities in Oak Ridge are focusing on technological challenges facing U.S. industry.

REMOTEC took an ORNL prototype of the PNEU-WORM and refined it into a relatively inexpensive product that can work its way around hairpin curves and up 90-degree vertical climbs, much in the same way as an inch worm would, searching for anything from internal corrosion to radioactive particles.

Sammy Jones, managing director of REMOTEC, said the product would not have been possible without the long-term research work done by its inventor, W. Don Box, and other researchers at ORNL who took the concept from idea to prototype.

"There are things coming out of the (national) labs that are making America the front runner in emerging technologies," Jones said. "Small companies just don't have the money to do it. It's the long-term things that companies can't do."

Lockheed Martin Energy Systems' technology transfer program is the key to getting ideas from the minds of its scientists, through the initial research and development phases and to a point where industry can take over, Jones said.

"Without the technology transfer program, it is unlikely the idea would ever have progressed beyond the laboratory," Jones said. "Don's idea would have died at the lab."

He said the people at ORNL lend much-needed support to corporate society, especially among smaller companies. Although the technology transfer program can be used by companies of all sizes, Jones said it can probably be best utilized by small entrepreneurs.

"They need the backup of the lab more than anybody," he said.

Although REMOTEC was acquired by Westinghouse Electronic Systems Division in 1993, Jones said the company is operated like a small business, and has benefited from ORNL research. The company's main mission is the design, marketing and manufacturing of mobile robot systems that are capable of replacing human workers in hazardous environments.

Fitting into this scheme, the video camera-fitted PNEU-WORM goes where no person can, carrying meters to measure radioactivity, corrosion, erosion and blockage in pipes from two to twelve inches in diameter. The robot is remote-controlled by an operator viewing the video image taken by the camera "eye" of the PNEU-WORM. The operator can use the pneumatic guiding system to choose a direction when the pipe splits.

Jones said the steering capabilities of the PNEU-WORM are one of its main advantages. Other advantages, he said are that it is mechanically simple, relatively inexpensive ($32,000 compared to $250,000 for other devices) and reliable.

"It's almost impossible to strand it in a pipe," Jones said.

The Corps of Engineers will use the PNEU-WORM to measure mineral buildup in pipes. Industries interested in the robot are the nuclear power industry, the pulp and paper industry, the petrochemical industry and the fossil fuel industry.

You can learn more about this research and many other exciting projects by visiting ORNL on Oct. 21, 1995, during its Community Day event. Many of our facilities will be open to the public that day. For additional information, call ORNL Public Affairs, 865-574-4160.

ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram national research and development facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, which also manages the Oak Ridge K-25 Site and the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant.