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Laser Welding Snakebot Climbs Through Pipes, Into Nightmares

Just don’t make it angry.
December 13, 2015, 3:00pm
Image: OCRobotics.

Meet LaserPipe. The snake-like robotic arm with a five-kilowatt laser head is not the invention of a deranged supervillain, but of UK-based manufacturing company TWI. As part of Innovate UK's tech innovation competition, TWI designed LaserPipe to weld in impossibly dangerous environments. LaserPipe would live and work in the nuclear power pipeline, keeping pipes secure so that nothing dangerous and glowing leak out.

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Terminator-level fearmongering aside, LaserPipe is an ingenious solution to a serious problem. Whether pipes are carrying radioactive sludge or drinking water, fixing a pipe almost always means sending humans where they'd rather not go. A simple water main repair can destroy a city intersection for weeks or months. The ability to crawl through a pipe and repair it from the inside is invaluable and amazingly rare ever since child labor was banned.

To repair a pipe, an operator would drive LaserPipe to the needed location. As seen in the video, the strength of the snake-like body lets LaserPipe stand, twist, and weave around obstacles with no support. Once it arrives to the welding site, LaserPipe uses targeting lasers to position itself on the exact spot. The welding laser turns on, LaserPipe spins in a circle, and voila: you've got yourself a welded pipe. The snake body retracts the same way it came in, so there's no trace a snake-creature capable of melting steel was ever there at all.

Oh, this just got scary again, didn't it?